Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Mating Nucs - A Little Work

As reported last time, I purchased some mini queen mating nucs. The mini frames within the nucs have a slot where you are expected to put a small amount of wax foundation so the bees can draw it out. I decided to do that Monday evening as I had a few minutes free.

I had a small crock pot with wax in it that I had used for re-coating some plastic frames (I purchased the crock pot expressly for dedicating to this task, as for marital harmony, you should never use any of your wife's cooking items for anything having to do with beekeeping and especially bees wax!!). So I plugged it in and let it heat up.

I had also purchased a pack of 10 sheets of wire-less foundation, to use with these nuc frames. I cut up one of the sheets into about 1" strips, and put them in the slot in the frame. Then I dribbled a little melted wax on the edge to hold the foundation in. Here's the result:

Not too exciting, but now the mating nucs are ready whenever I am (or, I should say whenever the bees are). Looking back, I realized I didn't need to buy wire-less foundation - I could have taken one sheet of wired foundation and just cut out strips in between the wires. Now what am I going to do with 9 1/2 sheets of unwired foundation? Maybe make candles...

The weather hasn't been too great lately - it got down to 25 degF the other night, and it's been cold and rainy. Old Man Winter is getting in one last dig!

Also, I just noticed that this is my blog's 200th post!! Yay bees!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

New Toys from Mann Lake!

I decided to put in an order with Mann Lake Ltd., a beekeeping supply house. They have free shipping on orders of $100, which is pretty darn easy to do for beekeeping equipment! Well, the order arrived today!

I decided if I was going to try to raise queens, I needed to have mating nucs. I have a few 5-frame deep nucs, and even a pretty crappy queen castle I made last year. I did some reading in the bee blogs about mini mating nucs, and they have positive and negative points about them. I thought about making some, but I saw in Mann Lake's catalog that they were less than $17 if you buy 4 or more. So I bought 5.

The mating nucs are made of dense Styrofoam (polystyrene). Here's the unit closed up:

And here is what it looks like opened up:

Let me describe what it consists of, from front (nearest the bottom of the picture) to back.
  • Sliding entrance closure (white Styrofoam) - you can close off the nuc
  • Ventilation grate (yellow)
  • Three mini frames (more on that later)
  • Division with a small queen excluder (yellow)
  • Chamber for feed / syrup
There's also a sliding bottom to more easily plop in the bees when making up the nucs.

Here's a picture of the mini frames:

Those frames are about 5 or 6 inches across (I should have included a ruler for scale in the pictures).

The theory on these is that you only need about a cupfull of bees to populate the nuc. The bees draw out wax on the mini-frames and the queen can lay eggs there (I also bought some plain foundation to put some starter strips in the mini frames).

The pros of these mini-nucs is that it doesn't take many bees to populate it. You can make a lot more of these with the same resources.

Some of the cons are that the frames are special, only for these nucs. What do you do if/when the queen fills up the frame with brood? Plus, what do you do when you are done with queen rearing - the frames don't fit in a full-size hive?

I'll probably see if I can make some frame which hold multiple mating frames. That way when I am done I'll put the mini-frames in a full-size hive and let the bees hatch out.

I gave the hives a quick peek at the feeding jars on Tuesday. The brown hive had emptied theirs (that hive is by far the strongest); the green hive had about 1/4 left in each jar; but the pink hive had over half of a jar left. I still don't know what that hive is doing - I see a few bees flying in and out with pollen, and it doesn't look like robbing. But I'll know better this weekend. Hope the weather holds out!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Hive Check 03-17-2012 - Feedin' Time!

Today the temperatures were in the low 50's, and the weather is projected to be warm for the next week or so. I decided it was time to start feeding some sugar syrup to stimulate the bees to start to reproduce, and last night I cooked up a batch of 1:1 syrup (with 10 lbs. of sugar). I haven't built any top feeders yet, so I filled up some quart mason jars, with lids with small holes in them. This was the same way I have always fed.

I started out at the Sutton hives, to check up on them. The last time I checked, they were doing well. Today was no different. I was extremely pleased to see the bees bringing in pollen! That is the first I've seen that, although some of my local bee buddies have been reporting pollen for a week or so.

The hives looked good, with lots of bees on the top bars:

Here's where I added the two jars of sugar syrup. Not too exciting, but the bees like it.

I always put the jars to the side, not directly over the inner cover hole. That way, if I have a jar leak, it won't rain down on the bees.

I ended up putting the shim on the top side of the inner cover (it used to be below the inner cover, to leave room for the sugar patties). Then I put a medium box over the jars, just to protect them and keep the bees out.

I am glad these hives made it through the winter. Last winter I lost both hives. So hopefully they will start makin' babies and build up in strength..

Then I did the same for my backyard hives. I saw pollen being brought in the brown hive, but not yet in the green hive (I guess the brown hive was being stingy with that information!).

Here's the Green hive - lots of bees, like I like:

The Brown hive was also looking good:

Both got jars of syrup, and empty boxes over it.

Then I thought to take a look at the Pink hive again. It still had no traffic to speak of.
Here's what I saw when I popped up the inner cover:

This definitely looks like a small winter cluster. It continues to confound me. I didn't feel like taking it apart to look for the queen - I'll do that on another warmer day. But I did give it some sugar syrup too, just to see what it'll do. Who knows - maybe the queen is still in there!

On all the hives (even Sutton) I also took off the mouse guard, and put an entrance reducer on the medium setting. Some people don't bother with entrance reducers in the spring, but I figure with the reduced population of bees, they can defend a smaller entrance easier.

So here are the backyard hives (I didn't have another medium for the pink hive, so it got a larger box).

Backyard Check 03-08-2012 - 1 Dead Hive?

Last Thursday I worked from home due to parent teacher conferences, and the weather happened to be warm enough for a hive check. Over lunch, I gave my backyard hives a quick peek. I also had some more sugar patties to feed in case they needed it.

It was warm enough for the bees to be flying:

However, I have three hives, but I only saw bees flying from 2 of them. Uh oh! The pink hive had no flyers:

So I popped the top on the Pink Hive, and this is what I saw:

This looks like a cluster of bees, although a bit on the small side, so I was confused why they aren't flying. I pulled a frame in the middle, and saw plenty of live bees on the frame:

But this is what I found when I pulled the next frame:

The bees on the left half are all dead, stuck head first in the cells. This is classic starvation. The bees in the upper right were also dead, just stuck in place. This is classic freezing. The next frame had more starvation bees:

So I am confused. I did see a lot of bees coming in the upper entrance; it could be that they were bees from the other two hives coming in and taking whatever food they could. Or the cluster could have become split during a warm spell, then half of the bees died.

I lifted up the top brood chamber and saw this on the bottom brood chamber:

It's a pile of dead bees, quite a few (the white thing is the left over from some mite treatments late last year).

So it looks like this hive is either dead or on its way. But I have two others, so I can repopulate. I'll wait for decent weather to take apart the hive and check it out.

Lifting the Green Hive's cover showed the typical winter cluster of a decent size:

And the Brown Hive was similar, if not a little larger clump:

They hadn't consumed all of the sugar patties, so I just scooted them a little closer to the cluster and left them be.

It's not warm enough to start feeding liquid feed - the weather has to stay above freezing for pretty consistent times. So I'll give it another week or so.

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