Thursday, June 30, 2011

A New Queen (just not one of mine...)

Well, it's been enough time for all of the remnants of the swarmed hive to have produced queens, and I am sad to say I am zero for 5. I split off 4 nucs from the original swarmed hive (leaving cells in the pink hive as well), and nobody made a queen.

So I called up one of our bee club members, George O'Neal, who breeds queens, and met him this afternoon to buy a queen. I have had great results with George's queens in the past - they are dark queens (Carniolan genes) and do very well here in the north.

Here is the new queen, in her cage (she wouldn't hold still so I included two poses):

I put my bee jacket on and went out to install her in the Pink hive.

I watched a neat video (found here) on how to see if a hive is queenless by seeing how the bees react to the new queen. So I just set the queen cage on top of the bars to start with:

A few seconds later, some bees came out to check things out:

Then even more came out:

I couldn't really see if the bees were being aggressive to the new queen or not, but there was plenty of interest.
So I went ahead and put the cage in between a couple of the frames, face down:

That's the nice thing about these California queen mini-cages is that you don't have to take any frames out to fit the cage in.

I'll check on Sunday to see if they have released her. Hopefully in a week or so she will start laying.

Last Sunday I put a frame of eggs in the Blue Nuc and when I checked, I saw that the bees had built out a couple of nice looking queen cells. This is the mating calendar for that nuc, as best I can figure out. I still have the white queen castle (made into a single nuc) to deal with. This Sunday I'll probably move another frame of eggs from the Brown Hive to the White Nuc and let them make a queen also. Again, with the (now) two nucs, I am not worried about honey, etc. so I can afford to let them take their time.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Castle Experiment - FAIL

After a few days of rain, it was finally nice enough to inspect the hives. In fact, it was a little too warm - I was sweating like a hog! But mid/high 70's is a good temperature for the bees.

Queen Castle

When last checked, the queen castle was struggling. The second and third chambers had further dwindling bees. Well, I checked it today, and it was even worse condition. There was probably only about 3/4 cup of bees in each of the chambers - take a look at this pitiful frame:

I addition to the few bees, you can see a lot of brood that has never emerged - I suspect the nights got too cold for the few nurse bees to keep the brood warm, and it got chilled and died. Here's another shot with a lot of half-born bees. Sad.

In addition to few bees, the two chambers were absolutely overrun with big black ants. They enjoyed the feast of sugar water and nectar, and there weren't enough bees to keep the ants at bay.

Luckily the first chamber had a good number of bees, but I did not see a queen or eggs. It's still a but pre-mature to call it a complete failure - on the 31st I should see some eggs. I ended up pulling the divider between the first and second chamber, and added a frame of nectar I pulled from the pink hive (more on that later). So I ended up making a 6-frame nuc out of the two seconds, and I hope that if there is a queen, she'll have more resources. I also added the pitifully few bees from the other two sections.

So I'm about ready to declare my queen castle experiment a failure. If I end up with a queen in the first chamber, it'll be a miracle.

Pink Hive

I did an inspection of the Pink hive. The honey super was very light - almost empty. They are putting the nectar in the upper brood chamber like gangbusters. As this hive swarmed because it became honey-bound, I pulled out a couple of frames full of nectar/honey and put in some empty drawn frames. This will give the queen (if/when she starts) plenty of room to lay. I moved those two frames to the queen castle to reinforce their stores.

Still no evidence of a queen. But it has until the 31st, and then I'll probably buy a queen.

Brown Hive

The brown hive continues to do well. The honey super had a good 7 frames with nectar in it - they have to finish it off and cap it before it is ready to harvest. When I separated the upper and lower hive bodies, there was a good number of bees on the top bars:

The upper chamber was pretty full, so I removed a frame and put in a fresh empty one (drawn). I also removed a frame with new eggs and larvae and put it in the blue nuc (see below).

Blue Nuc

The blue nuc was made at the same time as the queen castle, and it is doing well with regard to the number of bees. But I didn't see evidence of a queen (yet). I took a frame of new eggs and larvae from the brown hive to put into the nuc, just in case they don't have a queen. They will make a new queen from those eggs.

I am not too concerned about the blue nuc - I am not depending on it for anything. I will get a queen for the pink hive if it doesn't have one next week, but I don't mind waiting for the blue nuc to develop one of their own.

I also got a chance to go to Sutton and inspect the hives there.

Sutton Hive #1

This hive continues to be a booming hive - full full full of bees! I put a honey super on it a while back, but they have done nothing with that hive.

Here's the top of the top box right after I opened it up, and you can see a ton of bees there!

I inspect from the bottom  up, so I cracked open the two boxes to take a peek. Here's what I found:

What you are looking at is a lot of brace (or burr) comb, built between the bottom bars of the top box, and the top bars of the bottom box. The white things you see are drone larvae that were unfortunately damaged when I separated the boxes. The bees had built this comb every which way - not just in line with the frames. It was bridging multiple frames. These bees were building a lot of drones, which is a good sign (they won't make drones if there aren't enough resources)

When I got done inspecting the bottom, there were still tons of bees on the top of the bars:

The brood pattern looked pretty good. I didn't see a lot of eggs and larvae, but I saw enough to know the queen is there (I didn't see her, even though I looked).

Since I had a swarm at home due to being honey bound, I am very mindful of making sure this didn't happen. I removed two pretty full frames of honey/nectar from the top box and replaced them with empty comb, to give the queen more laying room.

When I got done and put everything back together, I had to take a picture of this hive. Can you believe the number of bees here???

Sutton Hive #2

Hive #2 wasn't a populous as hive one, but it looked good nonetheless.

The first frame I pulled out from the bottom chamber had the queen on it!

This was the one I found and marked last time; it's so much easier to spot the queen when she is marked!

The upper chamber was super heavy, so I removed a couple of honey-bound frames from that one, and replaced them with empty drawn comb.

Finally, when I was finishing up and loading things up in my truck, I saw this on the driveway:

You'll notice a theme in what I've been doing lately - I've been removing frames of honey/nectar and replacing them with empty frames. So I have a few frames that I need to empty out. I plan on using my new extractor and extracting out the frames. I'll save the honey and nectar to feed back to the bees this fall. It isn't for human consumption, because 1) some of the frames are not capped, so it isn't ready to be honey, and 2) some of the nectar may actually be sugar syrup. So it's just for the bees.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Ugh! I can't win!!

So I have this queen castle in which I am attempting to incubate a couple of queens.

I did a quick inspection on Sunday and saw that the left and center sections had very few bees, and almost no stores (food). So I thought I'd feed them some sugar syrup.

I made up some 1:1 syrup and put it in an inverted mason jar on top of the screened-in covers on the two sections, and I put an empty body around it. It looked like this:

I noticed that there was a lot of bee activity around the castle, especially noticing bees which were coming and going in the little gaps you can see in the inner covers (between the castle and the gray empty hive body). It appeared bees were getting into the empty hive body and robbing the sugar water from the jars. Sure enough, I checked the next day and the jars were empty.

So I thought I would outsmart the bees, and use an internal  feeder, which looks like this:

Here's another view where you can see down the inside:

The reservoir holds the sugar syrup, and there are little floats that the bees can land on to take up the syrup. This feeder takes the place of a frame.

So I grabbed 2 feeders and installed them in the first two compartments. There! Now I am done!

Well this morning I looked out, and I saw a ton of busy bee activity in front of the queen castle, as well as in front of my brown hive. Observing the bees, I saw them making a "bee line" in between the two - oh no!! The queen castle is being robbed!

The bees from the brown hive were coming in the main entrance of the two sections and robbing out the sugar water. When a hive (or a nuc) is being robbed, it is very stressful on the home bees. Imagine thousands of marauders coming in and rifling through your house taking whatever they want.

When this happens to a full size hive, you add a robbing screen. It's basically a screen that forces the bees to take a roundabout way to get into the hive. The house bees can navigate the route, because they are willing to learn the changes. The raiding bees are just interested in the food, and don't know they have to go up a little to go in.

But I didn't have a robber screen for the queen castle. But I did have a lot of #8 hardware cloth (basically a metal version of your window screening). So I cut off some pieces and made a channel about 10 inches and stapled it to the two entrances of the queen castle (the other section wasn't being robbed). Here's what it looked like after I put on the screens:

Sorry for the bad quality - it was taken by my iPhone. But if you zoom in you can see the screens I installed. You can also see the bees congregating around the bottom of the entrance, and around the (screened) vent holes. They can smell the food, but can't get to it via a direct method.

I hope this is enough to help the bees in the castle survive. If any of them survive and produce a queen, it won't be because of any help from me!!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Split Up Queen Cells for Nucs

So all week I've been reading up and watching YouTube videos about making up Nucs from swarm cells, in preparation for me doing it. In all of these videos they make it look so easy.

Based on when I saw the queen cells get capped, they should be born around Sunday. You can see the information in an on-line queen rearing calendar. In case the time may be off a day or so, I decided to make up the queen castle today (Friday).

So after I got the kids up and started getting ready for school, I had about 1/2 hour to go out to the back yard and put together the queen castle. The castle has 3 sections in it, and each section can hold 3 frames. I decided to find a frame of brood, a frame of honey/pollen, and put in a new undrawn frame. Then I was going to feed them sugar water and a pollen patty. I ended up taking one frame of brood from the Pink hive, and two from the Brown hive (the Pink hive was the one which swarmed, so there wasn't an abundance of brood and bees like the Brown hive).

Then I went to the frame which I moved to the nuc, which had a lot of queen cells on it. My intention was going to separate (cut) the queen cells out, leaving plenty of margin around the cells. While this looks easy on YouTube, it was less than easy for me.

The frame on which the queen cells were built was a wired wax foundation, which was quite a few years old. So the queen cells were built in the corners, and were not very distinct. I was as careful as I could be, and I think I did OK. But I was only able to cut out two groupings of cells, and I needed three (one for each of the sections of the queen castle). Plus, the wire in the foundation was causing me problems (the knife couldn't cut it easily), so I had to carefully pull the comb away from the wire.

I could only get two sets of cells cut out in the morning, so I left one section of the queen castle without queen cells for the day (not a problem).

I observed an interesting thing while I was stealing the frame from the Pink hive. I looked through the other frames, because there was one with a good number of queen cells on it that I was leaving for the Pink hive. Well, as I went through the frames looking for a good one with brood to bring to the queen castle, I found another frame with two good looking queen cells on it:

So I decided that the other frame I was originally saving for this hive could go into the 5-frame nuc, and the frame from which I cut out the extra cells (which was in the nuc) I could move to the 3rd chamber of the queen castle. I made that move after I got home from work. Now everyone has cells!

It's too bad I couldn't separate more queen cells. I could probably have made 12 more nucs - on this frame, below, there are probably 8 or 9 cells total tucked away along the bottom edge, on both sides:

I was also surprised this evening how busy the queen castle was, with bees coming and going already:

(the gray box on top just covers jars of sugar water) I would have figured any foragers would have returned to the home hives which are about 20 feet away. I've found that every time I've made nucs in my backyard, the foragers orient to the nuc with no problems right away. Lucky me!

Since pictures don't convey the activity like a video does, here's a video of the queen castle in action. I love videos!

I also swapped out the nuc body of the original nuc I made up. When I opened it up this morning to cut out the cells, there was about 1/8" of water at one end of the nuc! (it has the bottom board permanently attached to the body). I don't know how it got in, except maybe from a rear 3/4" diameter vent. We had a pretty rainy day yesterday, and some of it could have driven into the nuc. That nuc is more of a "commercial" style nuc - no frills.

So I moved the frames into one of the nucs I bought from the beekeeping supply place. This nuc has a screened bottom board (any water will fall right through), plus has a telescoping cover so rain can't drive sideways into the nuc. Here it is:

Now that I've seen the queen castle in action, I noticed a design flaw. If you look at the picture above, you see some gaps in between the gray box and the castle below. These are due to the fact that the queen castle's dimensions are not the same as the gray hive body, and it doesn't sit down correctly. Bees were getting up in the gaps (before I did some adjusting).

I should have started with a deep hive body for the queen castle, but wanted to modify some features (as I had explained earlier). I may re-do the body using a real hive body, and adding the permanent bottom and shims as needed.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

New frames

This is probably not worthy of a new blog post, but since I took a picture, I've got to put it somewhere...

I am planning on making some nucs in a day or so (for my new queen castle), and will need some frames to back fill. I have some frames with drawn comb, but I thought I'd put together some new frames just to have them on reserve.

In the past I have purchased the pieces to assemble frames, but didn't put them all together. So I dug out of the basement the wood pieces, nails, and sheets of wired wax foundation.

It's really not hard to assemble the frames, and I only did 6 so it didn't take too long (I assembled them on my kitchen table). Look here for a page describing frame assembly. I always glue the various joints on the frame, and put an extra nail in the side (fixing the side piece to the top bar better) since when prying out a frame, you could put enough pressure on the end of the frame to lift up the nail and separate the pieces (I actually did that accidentally on a frame, and had to wait for the winter before I could swap it out).

I also do not embed wires in the wax foundation after I install it - instead I use a method I learned from the "FatBeeMan," Don in GA, using fishing line as shown in this video:

It's worked for me in the past, except I didn't use thick enough fishing line last time. This time I bought a roll of 25# test line, and that should keep the bees from chewing through it.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Like an Expectant Father...

It's funny - I've got a nuc in the back yard with capped queen cells in it, which should hatch on Saturday. I've been thinking about it a lot, because it's not something which has happened in my beekeeping career a lot. It struck me that it's almost like how an expectant father acts!

Anyway, I checked the frame quickly this morning, and where I thought there were two queen cells on that frame, a closer examination shows about 8 or 9 capped queen cells! Some were on the back side; some along the gaps in the frame. So it looks like I have the possibility for more queens than I planned.

A few weeks ago I made a queen castle, which can hold the equivalent of 3 nucs. So with the current gray nuc, I can have 4 nucs going at the same time. What would I do with all those queens? Who knows, but I will probably find someone who can take one or two later in the season. I also have space on my stand for another hive (the former Green hive).

So I plan on Friday morning to steal some resources from both the Pink and Brown hive and make up the 3 sections of the queen castle. I also will take a couple of frames out of the gray nuc which are full of nectar (I don't know why I put 3 frames full of honey/nectar in the nuc - that's way more than they need). Then Friday evening after work I'll go into the nuc, cut out a couple of queen cells for each castle section, and put them in the frames.

Exciting times!!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Backyard Nuc Touch-up

Yesterday I made a nuc with a frame with a couple of uncapped queen cells on it. But I was nagged a little bit in my mind that maybe I didn't put enough nurse bees in the nuc. Last time I made a nuc, I made sure to shake an extra frame of nurse bees in the nuc from another frame (which remained in the main hive). But since this was from the Pink hive which had just swarmed, there weren't really too many extra nurse bees to share. I had a nuc fail the first year because of insufficient nurse bees.

I watched the nuc a lot yesterday, and did not see any activity out front (which may make sense, since the foragers left with the swarm, and the nurse bees stay with the brood). But I would have expected a little something more than a bee peeking out every once in a while.

So I decided to steal some nurse bees from the Brown hive, which had enough to spare. The problem is, to the nuc, those bees would be foreign invaders, and if I just shook them in the hive, some fighting may ensue (people say you can move frames of brood with nurse bees from hive to hive, and they nurse bees won't fight, but I wasn't sure about just shaking random bees into the nuc).

I remember reading that people have been able to shake bees by giving them something to do as a distraction. So this afternoon I made up some sugar water and put it in a sprayer, and sprayed the nurse bees on the frame I was shaking from, to hopefully disguise their foreign-ness for a while. I then shook the bees into the nuc. I would guess I added a couple of cups of bees, and I felt better with that population.

I also got a look at the queen cells. Yesterday they were open, but today they had been capped. Here are two pictures where you can see two queen cells capped.

There may actually be more than one cell on that first picture - I can't tell for sure.

According to bee math, the queen should be born in 8 or 9 days, and she should be laying in around 20 days. So I'll leave that nuc alone for 3 weeks, and check back then.

A-OK in Sutton

After my fun experience with my backyard hives swarming, I decided to go out to Sutton and check on those hives. Both hives were made from packages, and it is rare for a package to swarm the first year (although mine did my first year). I also wanted to see how they are progressing with the frames of honey/pollen/old bee parts I gave them to start with (from the dead-out hives).

When I arrived in the mid-afternoon, the bees were very active out front, as you can see from this video:

(I love taking pictures and videos - can you tell?)

Sutton Hive #1

I always inspect from the bottom up (this was a tip given to me by an experienced beekeeper - if you inspect from the top down, when you smoke the top box, it drives the bees to the lower box, and makes it more difficult to inspect with all those extra bees!). This was what I saw on the top of the bottom box:

Lots of bees - I like it! Here is one of the frames:

You see that along the bottom of the frame? No, it's not swarm / queen cells - it's just regular old comb where the bees felt they needed some larger drone comb. The frames themselves are worker sized cells, so sometimes the bees build this burr comb for the drones. That's what you get with pre-formed foundation. If you let the bees draw their own wax, then some of the cells will naturally be drone cells.

This hive didn't have a fantastic brood pattern - there was plenty of brood (and I even saw fresh eggs). But I attribute this to the fact that a lot of the frames started with honey and pollen in it already. The bees have to eat the honey and pollen to make room, and until then, the queen lays where she can.

I didn't see the queen in this hive (she is unmarked), so I was worried the "Sutton Curse" would be in effect. Last year I *never* saw the queen in the over wintered hive, no matter how much I tried!!

Sutton Hive #2

The second hive didn't seem to have as many bees as the first one. Here's the shot of the top of the bottom box; compare it with the photo above:

Not quite as many bees as the other hive, but still a good number.

Like hive #1, this hive built burr comb along the bottom. Here's a good shot of the drone comb - you can see the cells bulge out, look like bullet heads!

I got a kick out of the bees on the frames who still had legs full of pollen. Here's a couple of shots with bright orange pollen legged bees!

 Both of these hives were super calm - I barely used any smoke, and didn't have any dive-bombing guard bees harassing me at all. Here's a shot of the frames with some little bee faces lined up looking at me (look in the dark slot along the bottom of the picture). 

I got lucky in this hive - I found the queen! I snagged her in the marking cage - here's a crappy picture:

But the important thing is that I was able to mark her, so next time it should be easier to find.

I put honey supers on both of these hives to see if they will fill it (I don't expect any honey the first year, but you never know!).

All is well in Sutton.


The past few days have been real nice, and the bees have been very active. Every late afternoon when I came home from work, I would think, "I could check the bees" but then I thought to wait until the weekend.

Today (Saturday) I suited up around 11:30AM and while I was lighting my smoker, I noticed a lot of bee activity in front of the pink hive. Then I started hearing that characteristic bee swarm sound, and the air in front of the hive started filling up with bees. Yep, the pink hive started to swarm! Here's a video I took of the swarm:

I also took a picture. If you zoom in full screen, every little light brown speck which looks like part of the leaves is a swarming bee!

If you are a beekeeper and you witness one of your hives swarming, you get this pit-of-the-stomach feeling, like "I could have done something!!!" People say that once a hive is determined to swarm, there isn't much you can do. But there are things to do prior to that point to keep it from getting there. More on the condition of that hive later.

I was surprised by the swarm, because I inspected the hive 1 week ago, and I didn't think I saw any swarm cells. But then it just goes to show you how easy it is to miss!

I was hoping (beyond hope, it turned out) that the swarm would land somewhere I could recover it. But my hives sit right up against a heavily wooded area, and just like last time (2 years ago), the swarm took off up and above the trees. This time they went waaaay back in the woods, and I couldn't see the swarm bivouac anywhere (it was either too far up or too deep).

Since I was suited up, I went ahead and inspected the hives. I had never inspected a hive immediately after a swarm.

Pink Hive

Looking at the hive, it was definitely obvious that it had swarmed. There were clearly a lot fewer bees than before and they were very jumpy. I wasn't sure of the new queen had been hatched or not, so I went looking for a queen or evidence of one. I couldn't remember if a swarm occurs before or after the new queen is born.

The top (honey) super wasn't very heavy - the bees had started putting some nectar there, but not in any quantity. Also there weren't too many bees there.

But... when I pulled off the upper brood chamber, it was *heavy*!!! It turns out that there was a ton of nectar (and probably sugar water from earlier feedings) in the super. I suspect this added to the swarm problem - the hive felt there was no room for the queen to lay (and it was probably true).

I had never experienced a hive where the brood chamber was filled up with too much honey/nectar, so it didn't raise any red flags when I saw it last week. But now I know better!

I wanted to look for queen cells or evidence of a queen. What I found was very strange. I found a couple of frames with what looked like torn-out queen cells:

But I also found some uncapped queen cells as well, on the same frame!

I think the bees started some queen cells at different times, so the uncapped cells are still maturing.

It looks like there is a virgin queen somewhere in the hive (I didn't see her, but then a newly hatched queen is small and easily missed). Given the uncapped queen cells which were there, I decided to pull off a frame with those cells into a nuc and start another queen (I didn't want the newly born queen to destroy the queen cells being made). I also left a frame with other queen cells on it in the pink hive, just in case there wasn't a virgin queen there.

I'll leave the frames with nectar/honey alone for a couple of weeks until the queen starts laying, then I'll do some swapping.

Brown Hive

Compared to the jumpy pink hive, the Brown hive was positively tranquil. You could tell they had a queen present. The honey super had some good progress in it. Here's a frame showing some capped honey started. I may get something from this hive!!

The upper brood chamber wasn't as heavy as the pink hive's, so they had a lot more room for eggs. There were plenty of bees in the hive, as seen here (where I removed a frame):

I also was lucky enough to spot Her Majesty:

Notice how the worker bees are clustered around her.

I didn't see any signs of a tendency to swarm - a few queen cups were present, but they were all dry. I'll keep an eye on them. There were plenty of bees in the hive, as you can see from the bees on top of the bars on the top brood chamber (which I had set aside when I inspected the lower chamber):

One of the things I noticed was the rich variety of pollen colors the bees had collected. I tried to take a picture, but it doesn't show the vibrancy of the colors. Click on these to take a look full size:

As I mentioned, I pulled off the frame with a couple of incomplete queen cells from the Pink hive, plus a couple more frames of honey/nectar (I had many to choose from!) and pollen, and made a nuc:

So now my little apiary has grown a bit:

Later that evening, I was finishing up a project for my wife (making a potting bench), and had a little more time left. There was one bee-related construction project I hadn't completed: I need to make a frame to hold grafted queen cells. I could buy one on-line, but I have a lot of standard frames around, so I thought I could make one cheaper.

I had previously purchased the queen cups and the grafting tool. The cups have a little nib that fits into a slot in the frame. It turns out that my table saw makes a slot exactly the right width to hold the queen cups!

Here are pictures of the frame I made:

I spray painted bright florescent orange the top of the frame (so I don't misplace it!) and marked which bar fits where (since I didn't cut them exactly the same size, I wanted to remember which bar went where). So now I have everything I need.

Later in the evening I noticed a lot of activity of bees in and around the two empty hives (one standard size, one nuc) that I leave on my back porch. There were even lots of bees checking out the hive I have in my garage. I had not seen this much attention in the past; I suspect it is foragers from my swarm earlier in the day which were looking for a new home! Wouldn't that be a hoot if they decided to take up residence in one of my empty hives??

(sorry for the lawnmower sound on the video - my neighbor was mowing!)
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