Tag Archive | dark

Beetles in the Hive!

July 19, 2013 (Day 69) – Inspection

We’ve been crazy busy and I’ve been trying to leave the girls alone for longer periods of time rather than disrupting them on a weekly basis. They work so hard, then the big evil monster opens up their dark little world, exposing them to the bright sun, then smoking them out and digging through their home. A few friends and family always meet their maker in the process. It really has got to be like something out of a horror film. Yet, it must be done.

This past week, I noticed a change in behavior between the hives. With the nonstop heat hitting the high 90’s, I expected lots of bearding. Green Hive 1 (GH1) usually gathers a small beard on the front while Yellow Hive 2 (YH2) will form a huge beard since it has more bees and has been the more active hive. That hasn’t been the case. While GH1 has been bearding more than usual, YH2 has not been bearding at all. In fact, the number of bees that populate the front of the hive have reduced considerably.

I pulled the top covers off this morning to collect the feeders and in YH2 I noticed a Small Hive Beetle scurrying across the box. I’ve heard of these little buggers, but have never seen one before, until now. Small Hive Beetles can infest and destroy hives, and they breed and thrive in hot weather, so this is not good news.

I went up to inspect the hives in the late afternoon, after the sun had gone down. Usually you inspect hives during peak sun while bees are out and about, but it was just too darn hot and I really wanted the hubster home to assist. I opened the hives around 6pm, temps were around 90 degrees, it was still daylight and slightly overcast.

GH1

GH1 consumed all of their sugar syrup. The top box (which I will start calling Box 3 because it was the third box added) had only two center frames drawn out last time. This time, the girls had drawn out every frame and capped most of the sugar syrup. There were also a very large and growing population of bees. This earned GH1 a new box (Box 4), yay! I did notice they’ve been using lots and lots of propylus. That’s the orange gummy stuff that glues the boxes and frames together – kinda like natural weatherproofing to keep the elements out and to protect the hive. Not a bad thing, just an observation.

I moved down to box 2 and pulled one or two frames. Gorgeous capped brood from top to bottom. My job was done. This hive is noticeably strong and healthy. I’m thrilled. I closed up GH1, added a new box and a new bucket of feed, then moved on to YH2.

YH2

YH2 had not quite finished their feed. Odd considering they’re the larger hive. The top box (Box 4) was added the same time as GH1’s Box 3. Although most of the frames were drawn, the ends still weren’t finished, and none of the comb was capped, it only held some nectar.

Box 3 had lots of bees, the frames were very dark and I only saw nectar, a few drone cells, few isolated spots of capped brood, and lots of empty comb. I also noticed what appeared to be some small queen cells. I don’t worry much about those anymore. They weren’t large, and I understand the bees like to have them around. I looked and looked for the little specks of rice but saw only nectar in the dark cells.

I moved down to Box 2, which before had held nice larvae capped brood and tons of eggs. Today it looked much like Box 3. I didn’t see larvae, I couldn’t find eggs, and I only saw a few spots of capped brood. Disappointing since this was a very strong hive with lots and lots of brood production. There may be brood in Box 1, but I wasn’t going to dig any further. It was obviously things had changed for this hive. They still look heathy, active and plentiful, but not thriving like they were.

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I added an entrance excluder to reduce the size of the area they have to protect. This makes it easier for them ward off unwanted pests and critters. The girls were buzzing up a storm in front of their hive after I closed up and left.

I always have a fear of doing something to the queen when I work the hives. They’re such fragile little creatures. Powerful in their own right, but not as powerful as the monster who invades their home week after week and can so quickly change the course of their colony with one simple wrong move.

 

 

Gray Matter Gets Solved

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During my last inspection, I mentioned finding some funky-looking grayish capping on an old dark frame that was located in the bottom box of Green Hive 1 (GH1).  Of course this concerned me, so I Googled “gray bee comb”.  BAD idea!  My concern turned to horror.

One piece of advice that most beekeepers agree on (a rarity!), it’s this:  Find and join your local beekeeping organization.  Not only do they offer invaluable introductory training for next to nothing, but the knowledge base of local, experienced beekeepers is heads and tails above anything you’ll find in any book.  I have yet to attend a single meeting (although I plan to very soon!), but I have taken advantage of their email forum.  Their generous and expedient responses are always indescribably helpful.

After consulting my beekeeping association, I learned that the gray matter is actually crystallized honey.  Hard to believe something that gray and shriveled   can be honey.  But it’s true.   Just as comb turns dark with age, so does the honey. One responder suggested I used my hive tool to open the capping and take a taste.  Hmm, perhaps another time.  I am more than content to take his word for it since “honey” is a much better answer than the terrifying speculations that were going through my analytical mind.

And so another small tidbit has been added to my beekeeping knowledgebase.   To think, in a few years’ time I’ll be the one sharing helpful tips with a beekeeping newbie who can’t tell the difference between drone cells and queen cells.

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.

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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!

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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…