Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Early Fall Inspection 8-31-2010

I was reminded by a co-worker that I have been a little lax in updating my blog. Part of that is due to the fact that I have been busy on the weekends and haven't had a chance to inspect the hives.

I took today off as a combination wedding anniversary celebration and first-day-of-school celebration, and had some time in the afternoon to take a look in the backyard hives. The last inspection was on 8-13, but in the meantime I have been watching how the hives are looking from the outside.

We had a rash of rain last week, about 3-4 days of it. The bees couldn't come out at all. But as soon as the rain stopped, the bees were making up for lost time! I've noticed the strongest hive looks to be the pink one. The brown hive is 2nd, and the green hive looks the weakest.

It was about 90 degrees when I did the inspection, so when I was done I was a dripping ball of sweat! But that was the best time to do the inspection, with a lot of bees out foraging.

White Nuc

The white nuc continues to have a lot of activity. Here are pictures of the top and bottom boxes of the nuc. You can see the (empty) yellow feeder in the top box:

I've usually had good luck finding the queen in this nuc, and today was no exception. She was on the first frame I pulled out:

This is a George O'Neal queen, and she has some Carniolan genes which give her the black coloring.

This hive had some OK stores, some nectar and good brood patterns, but I know I'll need to feed to get it ready for winter.

Green Hive

OK, now for the one which concerns me the most. I opened up the hive, and under the top cover I didn't see as many bees as I would have liked / expected:

I started pulling frames for inspection, and I didn't like what I saw. Every frame was completely empty of brood - nothing. Everything had hatched, and obviously there was no queen in this hive. I saw a lot of open swarm cells - so the hive tried to make queens in the past, but no go. There wasn't even very much in the way of nectar and pollen - all that the bees were bringing in was used to feed the current bees.

What we have here is a doomed hive - no queen, and fall fast approaching. If it were earlier in the spring, I'd simply move over a frame of eggs from another hive and let the bees make a new queen. But it's way too late in the season for that. Besides the delay in adding to the population, by the time the queen is hatched, it will be too late to find any drones for mating.

I've heard Ken Warchol preach about combining weak hives for the winter, so now I get to put that into practice. Hmmn... which hive to combine it with.... Hey, there's a nice strong white nuc sitting here!! So I decided to do a "newspaper combine" with the white nuc.

The first step is reducing the brood chamber(s) down to a manageable size. This hive has a medium honey super on it (totally empty too), and 2 deeps. Luckily due to the queenlessness, I could remove the honey super and 10 empty frames. I shook off the bees all into a single deep (they all fit - that shows you how much they were hurting for population).

After the hive was reduced to a single box, I laid a single sheet of newspaper on top:

I used my hive tool to make some slits in the paper, and then I put an empty deep super on top. I then proceeded to transfer the frames of the White Nuc over to the new super. Let me tell you, those bees were very confused. While I was making the combine, the nuc's foragers were returning to ... nothing! They were very disoriented and were buzzing around like crazy. I decided to leave the empty nuc in the original place, and then tonight I'll go out and dump any bees I find in there into the new hive.

The ending configuration was: bottom deep with queenless bees; newspaper divider; top deep with queenright hives. The purpose of the newspaper is to give the bees time to become acclimatized to each other, during the time it takes the bees to chew through the newspaper and removed it. I also put a fern in front of the hive entrance to cause the bees to notice that things are changed, and the bees from the nuc will re-orient to the new hive. So now I have a new hive with a jump start in population (basically doubled the number of bees in that hive) with a good functioning queen.

I think for the next few days I'll have some confused bees coming back to the old location, but since the old location is about 6 feet from the new one, maybe they will figure it out.

Pink Hive

As expected, the Pink hive is doing really well. I put on a super last time hoping to get something from any goldenrod flow, but it is completely empty.

I didn't see the queen, but saw lots of brood and young larvae:

You can see a good pattern in the 2nd picture above, and in the 3rd picture if you zoom in you can see larvae.

I didn't go too deep in this hive, since it is doing well.

Brown Hive

The Brown Hive was inspected next, and I saw a good number of bees in the top box:

But I was a little dismayed at what I found on the very first frame I pulled:

It's a little hard to see in the picture, with the sun coming through leaves behind me, so I circled my concerns. What I circled were a bunch of queen supersedure cells or emergency queen cells, all with larvae in them. They aren't as large as some I have seen in other hives, but the same concerns with letting the green hive raise their own queen also hold for letting this hive supersede the queen: no drones for mating. I didn't want to indiscriminately wipe out the cells, in case the hive really was queen less. So I laid this frame aside and went looking for the queen.

I didn't have to go but 2 more frames before I found her:

This is another dark George O'Neal queen. For some reason, her blue dot has worn off a little. But you can see here in the picture above.

In addition to the queen, I saw lots of brood in all stages of development. So I decided I didn't want another queen possibly superseding this one, so I ... "took care of" the supersedure cells on the first frame.

With that, I buttoned up the hive for another time.

So what do I have to look forward to next? I think given the fact that I haven't seen them bringing in anything from goldenrod, I should stop dreaming and start preparing for winter. I'll start feeding a 1:1 concentration of sugar syrup to keep the queen producing, and then later switch to 2:1 to get the bees to start packing it away for the winter. I've got some pollen patties from last year I'll feed them too.

I was at a large blue box hardware store, and found in the paint department some 5 quart buckets with lids. I wanted something larger than the quart canning jars I was using, so I don't have to add feed too often. So I'll prepare those as feeding pails, and mix up some sugar to feed them.

I still have to check the Sutton hives - I may get some more honey from them yet. We'll see.

Bee Meeting 8-21-2010

A couple Saturdays ago we had the WCBA bee club meeting for August. Like all summer meetings, it was an outdoor meeting at the home of a member who has bee hives (of course!). The first part of the meeting was the instructional part, with Ken Warchol going through the hives talking about starting Fall preparations.

He focused on what we should be seeing at this time of the year, and also focused on types of pest treatments for the hives. In this part of the country the biggest pests are Varroa mites, tracheal mites, and later in the year (and over winter) Nosema. Treating hives for hobbyists is a personal choice - not everyone chooses to treat, and different people treat different ways.

For example, treating Varroa mites can be done using pesticides (Mite Away strips); Thymol gel (which vaporizes in the hive); or powder sugar treatments to help the bees themselves handle the mites.

Here are the hives that Ken was working - I like the different color combinations:

Incidentally, the hive owners are also participating in a USDA study on the effect of the Asian Longhorn Beetle pesticide on beehives. There are some "USDA Hives" on their property too:

The instruction went well, and I was pleased to see that there were no grand revelations in what was said (in other words, I knew a lot about what was discussed). There was a pretty good crowd of people there:

Ken spent some time showing us what we should be seeing if things are going OK in the hives: good brood patterns with honey on the edges:

The owners have a very nice piece of property. There were lots of other bees and butterflies around:

There was also a small pond in the back yard with lily pads on it. Of course, the bees were making use of it as a water source!

And one last funny situation: at the meeting there were refreshments (of course!). Someone brought some cupcakes shaped like hexagons, with a candy bee on a toothpick on top. It looked like the cupcakes were made with honey, given how popular they were with the bees!

Ken came up and grabbed a cupcake, gently brushed off the honey bees, and started chowing down...

Monday, August 16, 2010

Inspection 8-13-2010

Had a chance to inspect both sets of hives on Friday. I didn't take the camera to Sutton, so no pictures from those hives.

Sutton Hive 1

This hive is doing well. I still haven't seen the queen, but plenty of evidence of a queen. I wanted to see how the remaining honey frames were doing, as well as those I put on the hive after I "stole" the capped frames for my honey extraction.

It's apparent we are in a little of a dearth going on, as the bees had done little to further their nectar/honey collection. There was maybe 1 frame which was capped enough to be taken, but I left it so they could still work on the empties. They had added very little to the empties. Within the hive body there was evidence of hone being stored in the corners as well.

Sutton Hive 2

Hive 2 has a lot of "honey" stores (mostly sugar syrup I fed the hive earlier in the spring). I decided to put back on the super of foundation in order to catch any flows which may come up. Didn't see the queen, but I didn't really look, and I saw lots of young larvae, so all is well.

White Nuc

I have a frame feeder in this nuc, which was empty, so I needed to fill it up. Last time I filled it, there were a few bees within the empty feeder, and I managed to drown a few. This time I took out the empty feeder and set it in front of the nuc. Later that afternoon the bees had all left and returned to the nuc, so I was able to fill the bee-less feeder and put it back in the nuc.

Green Hive

This hive continues to baffle me. I found at least 2 supercedure queen cells along the side of a couple of frames, and about 10 swarm queen cells along the bottom edges of the frames in the top brood box. When I pulled out the frames for inspection, I accidentally damaged some of the swarm cells, as the bees had attached the closed end to the frames below.

When I was examining the top box (which happens to be a honey super), I heard a queen piping. On one of the frames, I saw a queen, but she wasn't as large as the queens I've seen before. I suspect she is a an un-mated queen, but I grabbed her and marked her anyway, so I can keep track of things. Here is the frame with the queen on it - note that her abdomen isn't as solid colored as a mature queen (compare with the picture below from the pink hive):

Once again I left things alone to let the hive sort out what it wants to do. Since this hive wasn't a honey producer, I am not out any production.

I beekeeper friend of mine gave me a slatted bottom rack and suggested I try it out. So I put it on the hive, to provide more room and ventilation.

Pink Hive

This hive is doing well. I did find the queen in this hive:

There was plenty of nectar (sugar syrup) stored in the frames of the brood chamber, so I put an empty honey super (above a queen excluder) on this hive to catch any flow which may come up. This hive has lots of bees, as they were bearding earlier. I also added a slotted bottom board to see if it gives the bees a little more room.

Brown Hive

I am still feeding this hive - lots of empty space in the hive. I decided to keep feeding it to encourage the queen to lay. It is by far the weakest of all my hives, but I saw lots of capped brood and good young larvae. I hope the population will increase when all those bees are born.

So here's the bee-yard as it looks now, with the new super and slatted rack on the pink hive, and slatted rack on the green hive:

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Inspection 8-7-2010

My wife is sick with a cold, so plans for today for her are canceled. We stayed home and I took the opportunity to inspect the home hives. I wanted to especially see how the Pink Hive is coming along.

White Nuc

I am still maintaining this nuc, and recently put on a second story and also added a frame feeder. As expected, the frame feeder was empty, so I filled it up with more sugar water. The bees hadn't done much in the top box except to start drawing out some wax along the bottom part of a couple of frames. So I brought up a frame of brood to the top level in order to get the bees to start working up there.

Here's what the nuc looks like after I took off the top box - lots of bees; I like that!

There is lots of capped brood, so this hive is doing fine. I didn't see the queen when I was looking frame by frame, but when I put the frames back in the bottom of the nuc, I saw her scampering along the top of one of the frames. So she is there.

I did see something of a problem - I saw about 3 or 4 cells with white chalky bodies in them - chalkbrood. Chalkbrood is a fungal disease which is seen a lot when there are wet springs. We haven't had a particularly wet spring, but that hive is sitting in the shade a little, and it is reasonable that the moisture content could be high. I need to prop the top open a little to encourage air flow (that nuc has a screened bottom board anyway). As I was looking at the frame, I saw a worker bee pull out one of the mummified bodies and pitch it off, so that is good!

Green Hive

The green hive is the only one which I am not feeding. There was a good amount of nectar/honey in the hive last time. It's been a few weeks since I inspected this hive; last time I saw lots of queen swarm cells, but the hive hadn't swarmed.

Today I saw that the queen had been up in the top super (I took out the queen excluder to let the bees work the top a little more). In this picture you can see along the bottom there are some drone cells:

As I was inspecting the top box, I heard what I thought was some queen piping. I pulled out a frame and it sounded like it was coming from that frame. I flipped it over, and sure enough, I saw a queen bee! It was unmarked, and looked a little thin, so it could have been a virgin queen - especially since I heard the piping. Unfortunately, as I was looking at the frame the edge slipped out of one of my hands, and the frame jarred on the box. I lost sight of the queen then - I hope she didn't fall out (I looked around and didn't see any bees clumping on the ground like they would around a queen). I didn't see her on the frame; I can only hope she fell in the hive.

When I pulled out some frames in the middle box, I was surprised to see this - more queen swarm cells!

Some of them were capped; some open; and some got torn open when I lifted up the frame (since they were stuck to the frame below). I don't know what it is about this hive and swarm cells - they make them, queens get born, but the hive never swarms (at least I can't tell that it swarmed). I'm going to let it alone to let it do what it wants to do...

Pink Hive

The Pink Hive is doing well. Here's a picture of one of the frames in the top super:

It's interesting to note that there are about 10 queen cups on this frame. A queen cup is the starts of a queen cell. It's not always something to worry about, especially if the queen cups are empty - these were all empty.

When I transferred the nuc to this hive, I saw some chewed out queen cells. When I looked for the queen, I found her:

She's in the upper left corner of the frame, and you'll note that she is marked. That means she was the original queen that I marked when I found her in the nuc. I don't know what was going on with the swarm cells I saw in the nuc before, but they didn't supersede this queen.

I refilled the sugar syrup jars on this hive as well. Here's how I feed:

I use quart jars for feed. Some people use gallon buckets - I suppose I could do that, and I would have to fill them less often.

I also switched the entrance reducer to the "medium" position, as the hive is strong enough to defend more of the entrance.

Brown Hive

The Brown Hive is also being fed to encourage the queen to keep laying. And she was doing a great job. There are many frames of capped brood, and the hive is doing well. I didn't see the queen, but saw some brand new eggs so she is doing her job.

The bottom brood chamber continues to be almost entirely empty, but I am not messing with things. I saw a few cells of capped brood, so I know she knows how to go down there.

As I was closing up this hive, I saw some bees "scenting" - broadcasting a "the queen is in here" odor for other bees to find their way. It was cute, them with their hind ends in the air. I took a couple of pictures:

Also, an update on the honey situation. I am pleased to report that I have sold all of the honey - a lot of it to people at work. I took in a small jar and gave people tastes of the honey. That was usually enough to convince them to buy a jar!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Honey Extraction

Today I did my first honey extraction. Here is the extractor set up on my kitchen table:

The extractor is a manual crank (ugh!) which holds 3 large frames or 6 shallow frames at the same time. You have to flip over the frames to extract the other side. For some reason, people always do 2 flips - side A, side B, and then side A again. I suppose that you get some more out of the first side, and that is what I found.

The first step is to remove the wax caps from the honey frames. You do this using a knife. They make fancy heated uncapping knives, but they run close to $100. I found a very nice serrated bread knife which worked just fine, especially since I only had 9 frames to uncap. I also didn't have an uncapping tank, so I used a plastic bin to collect the caps. There is still honey in them, and you can get that as well.

The supers that these frames were in had 9-frame spacing mounts in them, instead of the usual 10. Having 9 frames causes the bees to draw out the comb a little higher, and put more honey in. Since the comb was high, it was easy to slice off with the knife, and I had to do very little with the capping scratcher. Here I am slicing off one of the frames:

Here's an interesting frame - look how the honey in the center is darker than that on the ends:

When it is extracted, it will all mix together.

After extracting all 9 frames, I started draining the extractor into the honey bucket. On top of the honey bucket are 2 filters - a coarse one at 600 micros, and a fine one at 200 microns. Here is the start of the flow:

It took about 1/2 hour to drain the extractor, and about another hour for the honey to flow through the filters.

I did not buy any of the traditional honey jars (the WCBA club does a large order to get good rates, but that was months ago). So I went to Walmart and bought some Ball jars at different sizes - a lot of small ones to give as gifts and samples.

All in all I was able to harvest 22 pounds of honey from the 9 frames - not bad! Next year I'll plan better.

I also still need to come up with a good label for my honey. I am thinking over a few designs, and will post them when they are finalized.

The whole experience wasn't bad - I've heard horror stories about getting everything sticky. I put down some newspaper under the extractor, and had some drips, but it wasn't bad.

Sutton Inspection 7-31-10 - and HONEY!

Saturday I made a trip to the Sutton hives - it had been a couple of weeks since the last check. At last check Sutton Hive 1 was working on capping some honey frames, so I was excited to see if I could steal some frames!

First I checked out Sutton Hive 2, the new hive from a package in April. One thing I noticed about this hive is that it propolizes the heck out of everything! Take a look at the inner cover, and you can see the gummy propolis which was connecting the inner cover to the outer cover:

But I can't complain how this queen is performing - pretty solid brood pattern:

A couple of weeks ago I had put on a honey super, but because we are in a nectar dearth, the bees were starting to cannibalize the wax and were destroying the frame. So I took the super off - I'll add it later in the season if I see they are bringing in nectar. This hive has no problem for food, since I fed them earlier this year pretty seriously, and they have lots of honey (actually sugar syrup) in the top box.

Then I went on to check Sutton Hive 1. I wasn't going to bother with checking the brood box, since I was more interested in seeing if they have any honey ready. Well guess what - they did!

I brought with me 9 empty shallow frames to substitute for those which I took, and I easily found 9 frames of honey ready for extraction. I actually could have taken a couple more, but I didn't have any more frames, and besides I can always come back!

I brought an empty deep super and I used it to hold the frames I took. I would take out a frame, and then using my bee brush, brush off the 50 or so bees which were on the frames. Then I would put the frame in the super and cover it up with the towel (to keep the bees out).

A couple of times I had to take the frame about 30 feet from the hive to have the bees stop buzzing around me. The bees were pretty gentle, but after about the 6th or 7th frame they figured out what was going on and started to get more jumpy. But I never got stung during the theft.

I have a friend at work who is a beekeeper, and got a steal of a deal on a manual extractor and a bunch of honey jars. He had already purchased an extractor, so he was nice enough to lend me the use of his spare extractor. I plan on doing some extracting on Sunday.

Here are a couple of pictures of my friend's bee yard.

You can see it is very similar to mine - the hives are lined up, and somewhat tucked under the trees in his back yard. He said he is getting some honey from his hives.

Next up - extraction!
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