Saturday, May 31, 2008

More Tales of Bad Beekeeping

On the bright side, Rachel is growing, full steam ahead. I went in, thinking I would add a queen excluder, and she had not only drawn out comb on the first shallow super, but it was chock full of bees. I ditched the queen excluder and just added another super. What the heck. Perhaps they'll keep the brood in the lower deeps. Perhaps I'll just wait and see what happens. Sometimes the queen will stay lower down below all the honey.

Meanwhile, things still seem dire in Sylvia. She has started to pull out the comb in the upper deep, but down below we still saw no sign of brood, and perhaps a few too many drones. I'm reading up on combining a weak hive with a strong hive. Reading, reading, reading. I'll study up, give her another week and proceed from there.

Wrongedy wrong wrong wrong


So I did more reading after writing "A Box Full of Honey."

It turns out that queens take LESS time than workers to hatch out. So...probably the queen cells we saw in the Sylvia hive were formed before half the hive swarmed. I'm still thinking there is a queen of some sort in the hive, since the bees are calm and not cranky. She may be one of the queens that hatched around the time the hive swarmed....which would mean that she is only now getting down to business. It takes several weeks for a young queen (a virgin queen) to mature, go on her mating flights and settle into laying eggs.

I may poke into the hive today and see if there are any eggs or brood. Or I may just let them percolate another week or so and then check after the May honey flow is good and over, and prior to the July honey flow.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

New Links

Be sure to look to the right for some new links that will show information about queen cells and such...

A Box Full of Honey

Pamela, beekeeper buddy from work, came and helped look at the hives today. ABK (usual assistant bee keeper) provided educational narrative to the young children watching from the back porch across the yard. Here's the update on the girls. Rachel, as previously observed, is busting at the seams. The second hive body is full of comb, bees and honey. I added a shallow super (a shorter box with frames) to the top for them to make more comb and more honey. We'll give them a few days to start drawing out comb and then put a queen excluder between the top deep and the shallow to keep the queen out of that top box so that she doesn't lay eggs there, which will keep that shallow super full of nothing but pure honey. You can tell that Rachel is now a taller hive than Sylvia.

We delved deeply into Sylvia, taking out each of the frames in the bottom deep to see what was going on. Still no production in the top deep.
Sylvia seems quite lacking a queen. There was no brood (no eggs, no larva, no capped brood). Just frame after frame filled with nothing but nectar and honey. So...they've got food, but no mama and no babies.
We did find queens in the making...peanut shaped protrusions from the comb called supercedure cells. When a queen dies or otherwise disappears, the worker bees will pick some very young larva that would otherwise become worker bees, and they will begin feeding those larva royal jelly. The royal jelly leads the bee to become a larger queen bee. When the queen bee hatches out of her very special cell, she will make a mating flight with the drones and begin a career of laying eggs.
So...if I leave this hive alone, odds are that one of these queen cells will hatch into a queen and all will be well. The first queen will kill any other queens that hatch out.
I could also order a queen and add it to the hive, which I plan to research some this next day or so.
The lack of brood was not happy, but the queen cells and the box full of honey give me hope.
No pictures inside Sylvia today...but you can find pictures of queen cells in books and through internet links.

Rachel's Beard

Rachel's bees have been sitting on the front of the hive the last couple days. Not robbing, not swarming, just hanging out on the front porch on a hot day. According to the bee books, this sitting out front to cool is called "bearding." Makes sense, since it does give the hive a bearded look.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Care Plan for Sylvia

Since the Sylvia hive is WAY behind Rachel in progress, we reduced the entrance of the hive in case there has been a robbing problem. The fewer bees don't need the full entrance, and the smaller entrance requires a smaller contingent of guard bees.

We're going back in this weekend to check for signs of a queen. Will have to plunder around a bit in the bottom brood box, which is disruptive, but important since the lack of a queen is possibly a major problem. We'll look for eggs and brood and then get back out as quickly as possible.

My learning for the week....I couldn't figure out how you were supposed to check for eggs and brood when the frames tend to be COVERED in bees when you pull them out. According to the forum at (link to right side of blog under "Western North Carolina Bees"), you blow gently on the bees and they will move away from your breath exposing part of the frame to view. Tips: brush your teeth, don't eat garlic...bees don't like bad breath. Also, be sure to wear your veil, as bees may fly at you when you blow them.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

One of These Hives is Not Like the Other

A week or so ago, assistant beekeeper (ABK) and I found a pile of dead bees by the entrance of the Sylvia hive. We formulated some theories....a pesticide kill, a small robbing war (bees from another hive fighting to the death to steal honey...Italian Bees are bad about robbing as a species). Whatever the cause, there were dead bees. We also began to observe that the traffic in and out of the Sylvia hive was much less busy than the Rachel hive. Today, we cracked open the hives just for a few minutes to check on them. The Sylvia hive was full of bees on the bottom deep, but had only barely begun to draw out comb on the top deep. I didn't check for a queen or eggs since you're not supposed to mess with the bees too much during a honey bloom and since it was really starting to look like rain.
The Rachel hive, on the other hand, had really done some major comb construction. The two pictures below show the top of Rachel's top can see the beautiful white comb they've built. Rachel's only problem was that the frames were no longer evenly spaced, so I moved them around a little to get their bee space right.

We learned in bee school to get two colonies so that you have a basis for comparison. Later, I may end up taking some frames from Rachel to beef up Sylvia's supplies. We'll see how it goes. When I first brought them home, Sylvia was the stronger hive. Fortunes change.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Bees Grooving on Tulip Poplar Blooms

Mid-May is an important time in Western North Carolina beekeeping. The tulip poplars are blooming. See the bloom to the left and the bud to the right...they are definitely tulip-shaped blooms.
A visit to a tulip poplar bloom nets a bee as much nectar as visits to a bunch of different regular little flowers. One stop shopping. Add to that the size of the tulip poplar tree:
I put my assistant beekeeper in the foreground for perspective. She is using binoculars to check the progress of the blooms of the trees next door earlier in May.

Bees don't need trees next door, since they can fly two or three miles and cover 8000 acres in their foraging...but how convenient to have such an enormous source of nectar so close to home. In later years, the bees will make honey, honey, honey from this May bloom. This year they are using it to super charge their honey comb construction in the second deep I added to each hive.
God bless the tulip poplars.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Multipurpose Bee Gear

I left my jacket and veil on the dining table for five minutes on Sunday after coming back in the house. Five minutes, and it had been taken over as a cat bed. Cats aren't even allowed on the dining table, not that anyone really listens to that rule, despite my frequent reminders.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Double Deeps

The bees are now moving into their second deep, bustling about, building new comb. I know this without looking. I trust my girls. We learned at the Buncombe County Bee Chapter meeting tonight that the reason they've quit hitting the sugar water is because the nectar is flowing and they are finding superior stuff outside the hive. If you click on this picture and make it larger, you'll note one bee in yellow leg warmers....pollen that she is delivering for food for the babies in the hive. I believe that bee at the very front edge of the hive bottom with its rear end up in the air is sending out a homing pheromone...the smell of home to help guide the workers home.

Aren't they tall and pretty? Later this week I'll go out and take the feeders off the top, since they are no longer needed. The bees are bringing home their own groceries.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Stress Postscript

After we came inside, the smoker, sitting out on the back patio, began smoking in earnest. Smoke galore, beautiful, thick, cool smoke. My mudporch, next to said patio, smells like it smoked a pack of Marlboros.

This evening, while I worked in the garden, the bees came peacefully home from their day. I find that watching them come home and looking at the two pictures we got today are very relaxing. I remember now that beekeeping is incredibly stress reducing most of the time...just lost it for about an hour in the heat of the afternoon.

And now I have stress

I woke up at six this morning after dreaming about going into the hives and doing some work. I practiced in my sleep. I thought about it on my way home from church. I worked it all out in my head, step by step. I thought I would first move a hive, reaarange the concrete blocks and then put it back. We ditched that plan almost immediately after discovering how HEAVY the hives were. Huge concerns about the plan for double deeps, since they are so hard to heft. that for later worry. For now, the hives sit right where they sat this morning, unbudged.

Went to step two, opening the hives, one at a time, cleaning off the tops of the frames and then taking the frames out, one by one to examine them. Did manage to get some of the bee goo off the top of the frames in each hive. Did manage to get some frames out and sort of look at them. The bees had moved onto the last frame in this first hive body (they started on only four or five of the nine frames). The picture below shows them building their comb on the last frame.

So here is where all planning went to hell. The smoker went out. The bees started flying about, whizzing around my head. The frames were covered in bees, and I squished some with the frame holders when pulling the frames out. I got a little panicked. The bees got a little cranky. I looked at frames in the right hive (the Sylvia hive) first....and got through about three frames before putting everything back and closing it up. In the second hive (the left, or Rachel hive) I moved more frames, got further into the hive....and then, in a cloud of cranky bees, put everything back and came inside.
Took a cold shower. Feel exhausted, but a little better. NO STINGS. There is always that.
(1)....need to practice with the smoker. Need to just get good at reliable smoke, when not in a hurry to get in the hive.
(2)....we put the next box of frames up. Bees now have room to expand, and if there is one thing I determined for sure, they are ready to expand the hive.
(3)...they still had sugar water left in their baggies. There was definitely a ring of honey around the tops of the frames that I looked at before losing my cool. Left the sugar water on top of the queen excluder on top of the upper deck, just in case they need a little extra boost while pulling out comb on this next level.
(4)....did not even pretend to look for the queen. We determined that there were a heck of a lot more bees in the hives, so somebody has been laying eggs.
(5)....did not determine if there were new eggs in the comb. I peeked at a couple frames pretty closely. I saw a billion bees, a lot of capped brood, and that nice ring of honey.
(6)....and then I just saw bees. Maybe that was perfectly normal bee activity and I just need further desensitization. Maybe when I get my technique down and feel less clumsy, all will go more smoothly and quietly. Maybe, as a new beekeeper, I need to just mark it as a success, take a breath, let the bees and myself regroup, and try again another day.
(7).....tomorrow night is a monthly bee class/club meeting. I'm definitely showing up. Need some coaching and moral support.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Early Morning Glow

I love looking out the kitchen window in the morning and seeing the bee hives glow white and shiny as the first morning sunshine hits them. The dogwood is glowing white this week, too. Of course, bees could care less about dogwood blooms, I've discovered. Fortunately, they are currently grooving on the huge hedge (burning bush) along the driveway, which is covered with tiny blooms and happy bees. Eight feet tall, eight feet across, and the full length of the driveway long....lots of blooms right here at home. But for now, the girls are in their hive, letting the morning sun warm them while they wait for outside temperatures to rise to a bee friendly zone.