Tag Archive | crowded

Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Starting into our 5th year of beekeeping, I took a break from blogging because I felt like I’m just repeating previous blogs.  But after 6-8 weeks into spring, I remembered why I began blogging to begin with.  This is my journal, my reference to past bee activity – the good, the bad, the ugly.  So please forgive my for backtracking, but if you’re interested in what’s been happening at the BooBee Honey Apiary since early March, then you’re in luck cause this post is about playing catch up.

Early March – From Six Hives to Three

Yep, down three hives from six – a 50% loss.  First, our winter was crazy inconsistent.  We really didn’t have a winter.  All hives entered strong and I had high hopes.  What happened?  There were no signs of starvation.  No signs of excess moisture in the hives.  Mites? No, I didn’t see signs of mites, and my bees are all VSH or mite-resistant.  I suspect queen losses for Green and Blue hives, capped off by the cold.  Yellow hive showed signs of Nosema – a parasite that resides in the bees’ guts and is evident by brown splotches on the fronts of the hives.  I didn’t medicate because I prefer to use more natural methods, like adding my homemade honey-b-healthy with wintergreen essential oil to their feed.  Wintergreen is anti-bacterial and helps keep their little guts clean.  However, adding fumagilin to their feed this fall will be a simple fix to help prevent future instances.  Two of the surviving hives, the strongest hives, were my PA queens – the best queens ever!  The mint hive is from my Texas stock, and although not up to my PA queen standards, they have been consistently strong.   So disappointments aside, I’m happy to have three strong hives, and I have ample space for splits and swarms – so it’s all good.

Got Empty Space, They Will Fill It

I add a spacer at the top of my wintering hives to add food and a small top entrance.  But Purple Hive got an early start and began building crazy comb in this space early on.    Once they fill it with wax comb, the trick is to clear that comb before the queen starts to fill it with brood.  This was my first lesson learned this season.  I knew they were filling it up with wax, but the temps were still cold, and I piddled around until – you guessed it – she filled the comb with brood.  What a mess!  The image below give you an idea of what this crazy comb look like, but imagine it filled with brood.

The last thing I want to do is cut out and dispose of all of that bee-utiful brood, and boy they hated me when I removed it from the hive.  I wish I’d taken photos, but on a bee-utiful 70 degree sunny March day, I sat in the grass and, using a very small and thin Pampered Chef paring knife, carefully sliced the comb at the base where it attached to the inner cover.  I inserted the comb within empty frames and used rubber bands to hold the intact combs within the frames – just the way many bee removal experts salvage comb from home hive removals, or tree hive removals.  I added an entire box full of frames filled with rubber banded brood comb back onto Purple Hive and hoped for the best.  Several weeks later, not only had the bees made the best of the mess I had made of their comb, but they cleaned house and returned my rubber bands.  I checked on the hive and noticed rubber bands poking out of the entrance with 10 bees on tugging on them.  Amazing little creatures.  The least I could do was help pull them out and dispose of them properly.

Spring Reconfiguration – April 9, 2017

Purple Hive was crazy crowded coming into spring.  With four full boxes, they were ready to split on day one, but the weather was still unpredictable with night time temps ranging from the low thirties to low fifties.  I watched the weather and continued to wait for consistent high 40’s to 50 degree nighttime temps before splitting.   I wanted the resulting splits to survive the cold nights.  However, the girls needed space.  Two weeks ago, on a warm 70-something day, I reconfigured the hives, moving the queens down low so they could work their ways up, and adding lots of growth space between the honey and the brood.

First Swarm of the Season – April 16, 2017

I was in the greenhouse, late afternoon, when I heard it.  Out of the bushes arose a such a clatter – a swarm that I’d probably walked beneath a half dozen times that day and never noticed.  Ugh.  They say you really can’t prevent swarms once the bees decide it’s gonna happen.  Sure enough, I ran after a cloud of bees through the backyard, around the side of the house, and waved farewell as they exited across the horse field, across the pond, into the wild blue yonder.  I didn’t see where the swarm originated, but I blame Purple Hive, which doesn’t have half the porch traffic it had before. Oh well, not the first, won’t bee the last.

Splitsville Baby!  – April 23, 2017

One week after the swarm, the weather was perfect!  Perfect time to check whether Purple Hive’s queen is laying.  That hive is still crazy full of bees, nectar, brood.  I found queen cells, so guess what?  Green Hive and Blue Hive are back in business!  Woo hoo!  Two solid splits from Purple Hive.  I saw the queen and she is bee-utiful and laying like crazy.  Fingers crossed, her offspring will do the same for our newbee hives.  Why stop there?  I inspected Mint Hive, which looks great!  I gave them a fresh box between the honey and the brood.  Then Pink Hive is another PA queen that’s performing very well.  Tons of young brood and larvae.  I found a frame with two queen cells – bingo!  We had split number three, Yellow Hive – and believe me, Pink Hive needed to be split.  I gave them a fresh box between the honey and the brood, so fingers crossed, they’ll forego any thoughts of swarming for awhile.

Caring for the Newbees

So that’s where we stand!  Everyone has space to grow, and I’ll continue to be proactive and check on them at least every 2 weeks.  The girls were surprisingly calm, except for the one little bugger that got me on the lip this afternoon.  Lip stings are the worst – I feel like a Simpsons character.  My focus now is on feeding and caring for the newbee hives.  They’re closed off completely for 24 hours, at which point I’ll replace the entrance block with an entrance reducer and will add some foliage in front the entrances to help them reorient before leaving the hive.  I’ll keep watch and will check for laying queens in about 2 weeks.  Time will tell!

Did I mention how happy I am that it’s bee season?   Yay!!!

 

So much to do – cleaning frames and boxes; feed, feed, feed the newbees; install swarm traps; blog, blog, blog; and above all, bee proactive.  That’s my theme this year.

Happy spring everyone!  Bee Proactive!

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Queen Cells vs. Drone Cells

First Inspection – May 18, 2013 @ 9AM

Throughout their first week, we watched the bees regularly. They seemed happily busy doing their bee thing. New colonies can make extraordinary progress in an extraordinarily short amount of time. Rule of thumb for new beekeepers is to check on bee activity at least every 3 days. I’m not sure if that means dig into the hive and inspect the frames, but by the time Friday came around, it was time to dig.

The trick with inspecting frames is knowing what you’re looking for and what you’re looking at. I think I do, until I get in there and realize I haven’t a clue. I did see lots of thick new empty comb on the new frames – a good sign that the hives were growing. The center frames had good capping but were very dark, and many contained very large bumpy capped cells. Normal worker bee cells are small and flat. I knew drone (male bee) cells were larger, but I didn’t know how much larger, and the cells I saw looked freaky to me.

I immediately started overthinking. The frames were thick and the bees were crowded. Often when they get overcrowded – usually in the spring when nectar is most plentiful and hive growth is most rapid – the workers will create queen cells to replace the existing queen, should she decide to swarm.  Not a good sign, and certainly not something you want to happen within two weeks of the bees’ arrival.

Swarms

Swarming means the queen flies the coup – or in this case, the hive – taking with her half of the colony and leaving the other half queenless. Swarms usually rest on a nearby tree limb while the scouts fly out to find a new home where the swarm can relocate. Ironically, the mention of bee swarms evokes images of terror in lots of people. But bees in a swarm are much more docile than bees in a hive. That’s because they don’t have a home to protect, so they aren’t in “attack” mode.

swarm1

Swarms are often found as large clusters on tree limbs (photo from http://www.cincinnatibees.com)

Beekeepers love swarms because they’re free bees. So much so, they’ll risk climbing a 40 foot tree on an extension ladder with no gear and only a cardboard box in hand just to capture a swarm. Then they can brag about it and post pictures on Facebook :o)  Simply shake the branch and, ideally, the bees will fall right into the box…if the bees cooperate. As long as the queen is captured and transferred to the hive, her troops will march right into the hive with her. Swarms often generate very active and productive hives.

The Call for Help

My bees just arrived! I didn’t want them to think about leaving their hives so soon. I researched, looked at lots of pictures of queen cells, and I called my supplier. He said it was highly unlikely that they’d be making queen cells this early, but he did pack them in tight. “On the next warm sunny day,” he instructed, “go back into the hive and if you see a queen cell, use your hive tool to scrape it off the frame and destroy it.”

 

Second Inspection – May 20, 2013 @ 7PM

I reentered the hive on a sunny Monday evening with my hive tool in hand and the hubster coaching me from the sidelines. The weather was in the low to mid-80’s and the bees weren’t terribly active. I reinspected the frames and realized the cells I thought were queens were actually drones. They looked like round clusters of puffed cereal poking out over top of the cells. Queen cells are much larger, about an inch long and look like peanuts.  Now I know!

IMG_1715

Drone cells look like puffed cereal that raises over top of the cell’s surface.

Dark Comb

We also noticed that the comb in the center frame was much darker than the new comb on the outsides. Seems that comb darkens with age and use, so dark comb isn’t bad comb, it’s just well-used comb. Eventually, frames should be replaced – some beekeepers say to replace them every 5 years as they can turn downright black.

Don’t Tell the Bees

This is all good news – my knowledgebase is expanding, and with every new interaction comes a flood of new questions and greater realization of how much i have yet to learn…but let’s not tell that to the bees…