Sunday, December 29, 2013

Poo Storm: 2013-12-28

I've heard of a "poo storm" as a figure of speech before, but yesterday I experienced one!!  The temperature here in Michigan reached a whopping 40 degrees and it was sunny as well.  I decided to take the opportunity to remove some of the ice that was actually blocking the front entrance of the hive.  It had already begun melting and the ice slid off in a big chunk quite easily.  I could now see that the bees had moved many of there dead as close to the entrance as possible but they couldn't get them outside so they were clogging the holes in the mouse guard.  I pulled the dead ones out and brushed off some remaining melt water off the landing board and a few of the more cold hard girls were eager to come outside!

It is cold out here girls!
I took a quick count and there were 10 dead bees that I had pulled out and were now in the snow.  By the time I was done counting, about four more bees came out to investigate what the bright orange ball of light was that was hanging in the sky.  They flew around for a bit, never straying too far.  Two of them seem to be doing orientation flights (hovering in front of the hive facing toward to hive to remember what it looks like).  I looked up and one bee was near the vent hole on the candy board so maybe she crawled up and exited there.  It wasn't long until two of the bees had landed in the snow to take a break.  That is usually a death knell for a bee because if they stay too long the cold will move into them and make them "sleepy".  Of course they can't be that cold for very long without their sisters keeping them warm so they would soon die.  I picked them up out of the snow and placed them back on the landing board.  I ended up doing this a few times and decided I couldn't stay there all day rescuing bees, so I headed into the house.

After having lunch and running around for a few hours, I decided to head back out to take a peek again late in the afternoon.  That when I saw the evidence of the poo storm!  As I neared the hive and hit the boundary of the bee garden, I saw dead bees all over the place.  In addition to that, little brownish yellow splashes in the snow all over the place!

This snow used to be pure white

Hope you feel better now girls

If you didn't know, bees are very cleanly and only defecate in the hive if they have a bad form of bee dysentery.  So, they generally "hold it" for weeks and weeks at a time until there is a warm spell.  They sure took advantage of this one!  I'm just glad I wasn't around when a few thousand other bees decided to come out and drop a load.  Dang!

Having "done their business", it looks like they also took an opportunity to drag out a number of their dead sisters.

Bring out yer dead!
You'd might think with this many dead bees that it was a catastrophe, but this is not the case.  In the winter, the dead generally accumulate on the bottom of the hive until a warm day when the bees can leave their cluster and remove them.  With thousands of bees in the hive, a hundred dead is a pretty normal amount to have accumulated over the course of about a month.  So all seems well in White hive so far this winter!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Winter Bees: 2013-12-12

Winter for a Michigan beekeeper can be the most stressful time of year.  Specifically because there usually isn't much you can do once you've tucked them in for the cold season.  All the work for Winter prep is hopefully done before the snow flies!

Most people that I talk to tend to think that bees hibernate for the Winter.  Not true, they cluster together into a ball of bees and use the honey they have stored in the hive as their food/energy source to generate heat.  They start in the bottom box and eat their way up into the top box by the end of Winter.  So, if you open the hive on a warm day in January and the bees are at the top of the hive already, you are in trouble.  I wanted to do one final inspection in the Fall to determine the honey stores in the hive but I never got around to it.  As an emergency measure, you can put sugar in the hive so they can have something to eat.  Last year, I used the "mountain camp" method to put sugar into the hive.  Basically I removed some frames, put down some newspaper and dumped sugar on it.  It worked well but I came across plans for a candy board and it seemed like a really good way of putting the sugar over the cluster.  With a small hole drilled into the side it also provides additional ventilation to the hive as well as an upper entrance in case the bottom gets snowed in.  It was easy to make the box and some 1/2" hardware cloth stapled to the bottom and it was built!

Another nice thing is this sugar required no cooking.  I put 12 pounds of sugar, 3 cups of water and a tablespoon of vinegar into my beer brewing kettle and stirred it up.  This makes a paste like consistency that you spread into the candy board.

You place a block of wood in front of the ventilation hole/upper entrance so the sugar doesn't plug it up.   After spreading the sugar out, I let it dry for about a week before placing it on the hive.

Once the candy board was in place I put mouse guards on the front entrance, some wind breaks up to help cut down the North and West winds and placed some pieces of styrofoam insulation over the outer cover.

Now for the hardest part of all..............waiting until Spring!

Thanks for reading

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven: 2013-10-09

I had the great opportunity to visit the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven pollinator garden while I was visiting my daughter and son-in-law in California.  It is a part of University of California Davis in Sacramento.  Yes, it is the same company that makes the yummy ice cream and they have put up a lot of money for honeybee research and this garden!

The garden is kind of on the outskirts of the campus, down a tree lined road seemingly in the middle of nowhere.  I almost thought the GPS was lying to us until we turned down "Bee Biology Road"

The garden has a lot of cool artwork designs all with a bee theme of course! 


All the plants that were in bloom were covered in bees.  I don't know if my wife, daughter or son-in-law were enjoying the constant "buzz" in the air, but I sure was!  As you walk around the outside path, you can see some of the hives set up at the neighboring Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Research Facility honeybee research center.  It was all I could do not to go over and just walk into the place to look around.  Good thing I don't live in California because I saw a volunteers wanted sign on my way out!!  The only thing missing was a gift shop selling some Häagen-Dazs ice cream!

It is great to see that some companies know the importance of the honey bee in our food supply and are putting their money where their mouth is!  If you happen to be in the neighborhood, swing by and take a look!

Until next time, thanks for reading.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Honey Harvest: 09-21-2013

Well, despite having only one hive this year and having that hive loose its queen sometime in early June, I managed to get a modest harvest this year.  I think most of the honey was carry over from the previous year or honey they had stored up in early Spring.  Most of the cappings were darker (the bees had walked over the cappings for a longer time and they were older).  Newer cappings of fresh wax are a brighter white color.  There were also a number of pollen cells intermixed with the honey which makes the honey a slightly darker golden color and not transparent like last year's honey was.

White Cappings
Dark Cappings
My friend Keith's hand made extractor worked like a charm again this year.  Until I am extracting 60+ frames I probably will not have a need for a commercial extractor.

Once extracted, a course filter is all I use.

I let the honey settle for a few days and bottled.

All in all it looks like I have approximately 1/3 of what I extracted last year.  I would say just over 1 gallon in total.  Not too bad and the honey tastes fantastic!!

I did find one thing I have not seen yet in my hives.......a small hive beetle. 

I saw a total of two of them.  This one was trotting over an undrawn frame.  And here I thought since I was this far North in Michigan I didn't have to worry about these pests.  I know they are a huge problem in most of the Southern states.  One more thing I get to worry about!

Once I was done extracting, I put the wet super back on the hive above the inner cover.  The bees should clean them up pretty quickly.  Next inspection I'll be focusing in on Winter prep.  Checking for more hive beetles and seeing how much honey they have stored in the deeps.

Until then, thanks for reading!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Mite Sampling: 09-10-2013

I hate to even talk about this because just the thought of mites sucking the blood (hemolymph) out of my bees and perhaps transferring diseases to them pisses me off!!  But the Varroa Mite, is now an integral part of any beekeeper's management and there is no escaping their impact.  So, what to do?  I long ago decided I want no antibiotics or chemicals in my hives, so those kind of treatments are out.  This leaves me with various IPM (Integrated Pest Management) techniques to use.  Before you use any of those techniques, you need to determine what kind of mite load your hive is currently dealing with.  Of course, there are numerous ways of doing mite sampling and there is a great article here about the different techniques and why you would or wouldn't use them.  I decided to start my sampling by doing the sticky board drop test.  It isn't perfect, but it is quick and easy and a good place to start!

Mite Drop Test:
All you do to perform this test is put a board with a sticky substance on it underneath a hive that has a screened bottom.  You leave this on for a few days and then take it off and count the mites.

I put some vegetable oil on the board (next time I'll use vaseline) and put the board under the hive for 48 hours and this is what I found:

What you end up seeing is a plastic sheet covered by bee debris.  The debris consists of pollen, dripped honey, dust, dirt, a bee leg or two and some mites.  This is one of the reason you don't leave the board on for too can't spot the mites because of all the debris.

Here is a close up of the debris:

See any mites?  The big chunks of pollen are pretty easy to spot but telling the difference between a piece of dirt and a mite is a bit more difficult.  Here are the mites:

If you look very closely you can see the legs sticking out from their body.  Once you get a feel for the size, shape and color, they become easier to spot.

Counting the mites, I ended up with a total of 21.  Divide that by the number of days and you get just over 10 dropped per day.  There doesn't seem to be any rule set in stone that says "if you have this many then you need to do this", so right now this will be a baseline number that I use as a comparison.  I believe this is a relatively "low" number for this time of year, but I will plan on doing more tests in the future.  It is easy enough to clean off the board and put it back on the hive for a few days.

I would like to try the powdered sugar jar sampling method in the future.  That sounds interesting, you don't end up killing the bees, and you end up with a bunch of powdered sugar covered ghost bees walking around your hive for a while!!

Until next time, thanks for reading and I hope my mite numbers go down!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Busy Bees: 09-08-2013

I decided to take my camera and record a little video at the hive entrance.  The activity here is the definition of the phrase "busy as a bee".  Note the bright orange pollen coming in on quite a few of the bee's legs.  I would think that with all the Goldenrod in bloom right now, that it would be the source of the pollen.  But the pollen isn't yellow in color at all.  Hmmmm, what else is in bloom?

Enjoy the video:
White Hive Activity

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Performance Anxiety: 09-02-2013

White Hive has been closed up and left alone since the last inspection on 8/6, almost a full month ago.  The last few times I walked by the hive I have seen an ever increasing number of bees flying in and out so my hope is that the new queen is performing well!  Knowing that there were larva and eggs during the last inspection, there should have been plenty of bees that have been born since.  Going back to our trusty "bee math", an egg laid today will hatch into a worker bee in 21 days.  It has now been ~25 days and since a queen can lay around 2000 eggs in a day, that is a lot of new bees!  Well, what is suppose to be and what is are two different things.  The only way to see for sure it to open it up.

I had some help with the inspection this time when my friend Casey came over to give me a hand.  It is always beneficial to have an extra set of hands to hold frames, take pictures, use the smoker, etc.  Plus, I love teaching others about bees.  Especially when they are as excited as I am about them!

If you recall from the last inspection, I had added a second brood chamber onto White Hive.  Now it consists of two brood chambers and one honey super.  Since the second brood chamber was totally empty, I eagerly checked to see if the bees had begun to use it.  When I opened it up, the bees were covering 5 frames in the center of the box.  That is a pretty good sign right away.  I only moved in about 3 frames and spotted the queen on a frame of mostly capped brood!

Awesome!!  It is great to be able to spot the queen but even better when you get to show someone else!  I also noticed quite a few grey colored, slightly shriveled looking, fuzzy bees.  I believe those are the bees that have recently hatched.  They take a few days for their exoskeleton to harden and then they begin their first duties.  It usually takes around 22 days before a bee even leaves the hive for the first time!

Want to learn more?  Check out these links:
Honey Bee Jobs
Worker Bee Activities

If you ever see a honey bee buzzing around one of your flowers, you know they are an "old" bee!  Sometimes you can even see that the tips of their wings look shredded.  A honey bee pretty much works herself to death during her 6 week summer life span.

Back to the inspection: After finding the queen I did find a few more frames there were almost completely SOLID brood!  This is a great sign as she is doing her job and laying eggs and making more bees.  It is really important that they are producing strong numbers this late in the summer since a lot of these bees will be the ones that begin the winter cluster.  More bees = more warmth during the winter!

This early in the inspection I have seen pretty much everything I needed to.  The rest of the time I used as a teaching opportunity.  There is so much to show and often times when you teach, you end up learning too.

As I closed up the hive and talked to Casey about what he had seen, it was pretty clear that he was gung-ho about becoming a beekeeper himself!  Catch the buzz!  =)

To complete this post, let me leave you with some sad evidence of the impending demise of summer:

Nothing says "fall" like Goldenrod in bloom.  This bumble bee was taking a nap on these flowers, enjoying the sun and warmth.......while it lasts.

Until next time, thank you for reading!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Anti Robin Hood: 08-06-2013

You've all heard of Robin Hood, who robs from the rich and gives to the poor, right?  Well, in the bee world, their hero is the Anti Robin Hood!  They rob from the poor and give to the rich and powerful!  This is the sight I beheld as I approached the split hive to begin my inspection.

Split Hive:

As I came upon the split hive I immediately noticed a cloud of bees swirling around the outside of the hive.  Instantly odd since the population was so low that even basic in and out traffic was not very prolific.  The other thing that was odd was the majority of the cloud of bees were attempting to enter the hive under the telescoping cover instead of the actual entrance.  These were all signs that the hive was in the process of being robbed.  When a strong hive finds a weak hive that cannot defend the supply of honey they have, then they overpower the guard bees and steal the honey.  Not a good situation since bees are killed during the fighting and the weak hive can either be greatly damaged or destroyed.

Here is a photo of what a honey frame looks like when it has been robbed.  The cells have been torn open during the frantic raiding and have a very jagged appearance.
Robbed Frame
I had placed the entrance reducer on the smallest setting when I first set up the split hive and I thought that would be enough.  Not only did I made a mistake by putting the split into a full sized deep box (instead of a 5 frame nucleus hive), but adding a second box of honey wasn't good either.  I set them up to fail by giving them way too much space to defend with way too few bees.  Learning from mistakes are the best lessons, right?

Upon opening the hive it was obvious to me that the only bees present were the ones robbing out the honey.  There was very little honey left in any of the frames and I quickly went through both boxes looking for any sign of the virgin queen that was spotted two inspections ago or any sign of eggs or larvae.  She was no where to be found and the small cluster of about 50 dead bees on the bottom board told me that if I did find her, she would probably be amongst the dead.  I combed through the dead bees and did not find her.  I did find a dead yellow jacket and a bee with its stinger and venom sac exposed.  No doubt, she died in battle.

With nothing else left to do with the split hive (or ex-split hive), I decided to add the now mostly empty brood box onto White Hive.

White Hive:

My goal this time with White Hive is to verify that what I thought might have been eggs really were freshly laid eggs.  As you may recall, I spotted the queen during my last inspection.  If she was from the queen cell I installed, I wouldn't have known for sure that she had flown out and successfully mated.  If I find eggs that tells me that she did.

The first few frames were honey with some pollen as I expected, but as I pulled frame 4 I hit the jackpot.

Since I know the "bee math", I know that when an egg is laid it takes 3 days to hatch, spends 6 more days as an open larvae before it is capped (total of 9 days) and then 12 more days before a new bee emerges (total of 21 days).  This photo shows big fat open (uncapped) larvae that will be capped any day now.  So they are probably somewhere between 6 to 8 days old and that places them as eggs during my last inspection on 7-30!  I love it when I can actually figure things out!

On the other side of frame 4 I was able to spot a baby bee emerging from her cell (dead center), some very tiny larvae (two cells down to the left) and what looks like a tiny grain of egg (one cell down to the left and another one two cells down to the right)!

Eggs and Larvae
Now that I know the Queen is laying for sure, I can stop worrying so much about White Hive.  She should really be cranking out those eggs, possibly 2-3 THOUSAND every day!  More than her own body weight!

Continuing on, I found what I think was one of the old Queen Cups that the bees decided they do not need anymore.  They look like they are in the process of tearing it down.

The remaining frames had more honey, pollen, open larvae, capped larvae and a small patch of drone brood that is just about to hatch on frame 7.  White Hive looks really good and with a new Queen going full bore, they should be very strong going into Winter. 

Speaking of changing seasons, I saw some Goldenrod in bloom.  That sure heralds the end of summer doesn't it?  Lame!

Until next time, thanks for reading!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Post Action Assessment: 07-30-2013

Task number one during this inspection was to check the split hive and hopefully find evidence of a laying queen or at least find the (hopefully) non-virgin queen.  Task number two was to check White Hive to see if the queen cells spotted last time were completed or destroyed and if I actually have a laying or virgin queen in that hive as well.

Split Hive:

The population in this hive is still very low.  I had put the extra box of honey on the hive to make sure they had enough but I think I have given them too much space for too few bees.  There are lots of ants roaming around unchallenged eating honey.  They don't bother the bees but in a strong hive they wouldn't be in there at all.  The low population does make it much easier to inspect the hive and spot a queen though!  I quickly went through the box of honey and found a few bees but no queen (nor did I expect to find her there).  Going through the brood box I found some honey and nectar and a tiny bit of pollen but I found no evidence of a queen (virgin or otherwise) and no evidence of eggs, or larvae.  Based on the "bee math" I provided a link to in the last blog post, it could still be a bit early for the hatched queen to have flown out, mated and returned to lay eggs.  I'm really hoping that we did not scare her off during our last inspection and she did not come back!  At this point, I will give it one more week before I take some other action.  It is pretty late in the season, so the only practical option may be to just recombine this hive back into White Hive.

White Hive:

One of my goals this year was to keep better records.  But I am finding that I just don't have enough hands to record things on paper, plus take pictures, all while trying to manipulate frames and smoke, etc.  So this time I tried to just take a photo of each side of every frame.  It was still very clumsy but I made it happen.  Photos are great because you can often spot things that you did not see while inspecting the frames.

Inspecting the top box, it was mostly filled with honey along with a few frames of foundation that the bees have barely touched.  Having a filled frame next to an empty one just makes the bees want to draw out the filled frame even more, so I have some giant frames of honey in there!  I'll pull those for sure this fall.

The bottom box also had a lot of honey and the pollen stores seemed much larger this time.  Possibly this is because there are no larvae to feed the pollen to! 
Honey and Pollen on frame 2

I kept moving through the frames hoping to find the hatched queen or the queen cups I had spotted last time.  I hit frame number four and there was the queen!
Queen Spotting can be challenging!
Can you see her?  It always gives me a jolt when I finally spot her. 

She is in the middle of the frame a few inches down from the top.  Here she is a bit closer:

I spotted the queen, but is she the old queen or the new queen?  And what about those queen cups I saw last time?  To answer these questions I need to see if this queen is laying eggs and if the bees destroyed the queen cups.  Onward!

I continued to find patches of brood that have not hatched yet as well and large open areas with nothing in them.  Some pollen and honey on almost every frame though.  On frame 7 I hit a small patch of drone brood and this is the frame I spotted the queen cups on.

This picture wasn't as good as the one from last time, but you can see they are still open and have not been capped and turned into full queen cells.  It looks to me like the bees removed the two larvae that were in these cups.  I assume they realized they had a queen and no longer needed to raise a new one.  This is a good sign!  My main goals accomplished, I finished inspecting the remaining frames and closed up the hive.  I looked very closely at each frame and I could not find any eggs or larvae for sure.  On the photos for frame 6, if I zoom in very closely, I can see what MIGHT be a few eggs but I'm not sure.  I guess I will know which frame to look on during the next inspection to see if those phantoms have turned into larvae!
Possible eggs in the empty area to the right of the capped brood?
All in all I was pretty happy to "bee" back on track with at least one hive!  We shall see what the next inspection reveals!

On a side note, I planted some Borage this year in my garden because I had read that bees really like it.  I'd never even heard of the plant before, but as you can see in the photo, they like it!

Until next time, thanks for reading!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Mistakes Were Made: 07-21-2013

Sunday was a great day to work the bees for a number of reasons.  First off, my son-in-law Chris and my daughter are visiting from California and he wanted to dive into the hives with me!  Second, the weather was just perfect.  Temps in the 70s, clear and sunny.  If any of you other beekeepers out there are anything like me (and I'm sure you are), then you love teaching others about bees.  This was a great opportunity, even though I didn't expect to be able to show Chris any stages of brood development (see the last two posts).  As you are about to read, this was not the case!!

Since the split and insertion of the two queen cells during my last inspection, my plan was to get in and first check to see if they have hatched.  Hopefully I could spot a virgin queen running around in the process.  I already know that the split hive has significantly less bees in it, as there is very little activity at the hive entrance.  Because of this, I also planned on either moving a frame of bees into the split hive or just shaking them off the frames and into the split hive.  With plan in place, Chris and I suited up, lit the smoker and headed out to the split hive.

Split Hive:

This was going to be a good training and teaching hive because there were not going to be a lot of bees and it would be much easier to point things out.  Plus, not having a bunch of bees flying around your head is a bit less intimidating for someone's first time.  We opened the hive and I was able to go through the honey super pretty quickly.  There were only a few bees there and solid honey frames all look the same after seeing  a few.  I removed that box and started digging through the brood box, eager to get to the frame with the queen cell on it!  After prying back the fourth frame, I could see the bottom of the queen cell was opened so the queen was out somewhere!  We removed the queen cell and started in on the next frame and BAM there was the hatched virgin queen!  I pointed her out to Chris and in the 10 seconds it took to get the camera out to grab of picture of her........she as gone.  I flipped the frame over and back again a few times and she was no longer there.  She must have gotten spooked and flew off.  Camera shy I guess.  We went through the rest of the frames and we found a bunch more honey, but I was concerned that I didn't find any stored pollen.  That might be OK for the moment, but if the virgin queen does fly out and mate, comes back and starts laying eggs, there had better be some pollen in there to feed the baby bees!  We put the honey super back on the hive and put the inner cover back on.  I left the telescoping cover off at this point in case the queen came back she could get back in the hive a bit easier.  On to White Hive.

White Hive:

We opened up this hive and there were a lot more bees here as expected.  After a bit more smoke into the hive (Chris was my head smoker and picture taker) we dove in and quickly went through the honey super and set it to the side.  After a bit of coaxing I was able to get the first frame out and begin the inspection.  With the first few frames inspected, I was really pleased to see some pollen and "bee bread" packed into the cells.
After inspecting the next few frames, we came across a frame that had a bunch of drones and a queen cup on it.

I love spotting drones, especially when I am trying to teach someone about bees.  They are easy to distinguish because their large size and big eyes stand out so much.  Can you spot the drones in this picture?  There is a hole close to the middle of the frame with two drones above it and a queen cup to the right. 

I checked inside the queen cup just to make sure there was nothing in it, and there was nothing in there.  I continued on and began checking the next frame in line.  I slowed down a bit since the closer I was to the frame with the queen cell, the higher the probability that I would be able to spot the emerged virgin queen (if she was there at all).  I pulled the frame with the queen cell and sure enough, she had hatched.  The bottom of the cell was open and hopefully she was running around inside the hive.  I proceeded to move the frame out of the way and pulled the next frame out and I find..........BROOD?!?!?!  What??

At first I thought it must be all drone brood and perhaps I had laying workers but after seeing this on the next two frames and spotting a few actual drone cells, this must be worker brood.  How is this possible?  Well, the answer is that I screwed up.  I must have missed the eggs and larvae in these frames during my last few inspections and/or I simply didn't pull the frames that had the brood on them, so I never spotted it.  So now what?  I would think that if there is a laying queen in this hive, that she would have instantly killed the virgin queen inside the queen cell.  This wasn't the case because the virgin hatched out and was not dead inside the cell.  Perhaps the laying queen didn't spot the queen cell until after the virgin hatched and they eventually found each other and fought to the death?  Which one survived?  By this time I am scrutinizing every inch of each frame trying to find either queen.  I pull the next frame and I spot this....

If you look closely, not only are there two queen cups here, but this time they are full of royal jelly and I can spot a larvae in one of them (no doubt there is a larvae in the other one as well).  What the heck is going on?  If there is an existing laying queen, why were the bees trying to create a new queen?  If there are larvae in these queen cups, then that means they are somewhere between 4 and 8 days old ( right around the time I placed the queen cell in this hive.  Coincidence?  I think I need to give Sherlock Holmes a call because I can't quite sequence the timing and all the possibilities together to form a rock solid answer to what is going on.  Usually, queen cells built in the center of the frame like this are considered Supercedure cells.  This means the bees have decided that the old queen is beginning to fail and they have determined to replace her.  Maybe that is what was going on and my timing was just really bad?  Who knows?

We finished inspecting the remaining frames and failed to spot either the old queen or the virgin queen.  At this point there wasn't much left to do but close up the hive.  I did take two of the frames out and after closely inspecting them (and not finding any queens), I took them over to the split hive and shook the bees into it.  Hopefully that will give them a few more bees to supplement their numbers until the virgin queen mates and starts laying eggs to make new bees!

Hopefully, I will open the hive in another week and what I find will give more answers to the mystery.  All in all it was a very educational inspection, not only for "newbee" Chris but for me as well!! 

Thanks again for reading

Chris and Mark about to embark on an adventure!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Swinging for the Cheap Seats: 07-17-2013

I scrambled around the last few days trying to find a queen producer that actually had queens for sale.  I found a few places online that are still producing and selling queens but it seems that shipping them is pretty risky.  Who knows how much they'd get thrown around or squashed in transit or how hot or cold they would get!  Not to mention, shipping isn't cheap.........and I'm cheap.  I talked to a guy I work with and he suggested talking to the same person I bought my initial packaged bees from.  Duh!  So, I called Kline's and they didn't have any queens but they did refer me to someone that might.  I called that guy and he was sold out BUT he did have some queen cells AND he lived right in between where I live and where I work!

For those of you unaware of the differences and risks involved, basically you can buy a mature queen that is mated and actively laying eggs and you can introduce her into your hive via a cage and over the course of a few days the bees in the hive will accept her as their new queen.  Once this happens you can release her from the cage (otherwise the bees would kill her).  With a queen cell, it is an unhatched, virgin queen.  This means you can just put the cell in the hive and she will hatch out in a few days and smell like all the other newly hatched bees.  But she is a virgin and will then have to fly out and mate and then return to the hive.....all without getting eaten by a bird or smacking into a car windshield.

Since I'm kind of in a bind being queenless and I don't want to take the risk of shipping (and extra time waiting for shipment), I decided to go with the queen cells.  To mitigate some of the risk, I bought two.  My thought was that I would split my queenless hive and put one queen cell in each box.  In this way, if only one queen hatches and mates successfully, I could easily re-combine the two hives back into one.  Or, I could even move frames of brood from the new queen hive to the queenless one and eventually have them raise a new queen.  Worst case scenario is that both queen cells do not produce a mated queen.  Best case is that both do.

Temperatures were forecast to be in the mid 90s, so I went early in the morning to pick up the queen cells.  The guy was great and showed me around his entire operation.  He showed me all his hives and had me suit up so he could show me his queen builder colonies and how he did his grafting and queen rearing.  Very cool stuff!  The only bad thing is that is was 11 AM and already 88 degrees by the time I left.  Once I was home, I think it was about 92 degrees and I was not excited to put on my bee suit.  I put out some cinder blocks and a hive bottom board and began to split the hive.  Honey super and top brood box off.  Bottom brood box off and carried over to the new hive bottom board.  Hive tool moves two of the middle frames apart, hold the queen cell in and push the two frames back together.  Put a honey super on that was partially filled from last year and close up the new hive.  Back to the old hive, put the brood box on the hive bottom board and in goes the queen cell.  Honey super back on and close it up.  All told I think it took me 15-20 minutes but I think I must have lost about 50 pounds sitting in my bee suit baking in the sun.  Ugh.  I finished up by putting some grass clipping on the landing board of the new hive to cause the bees trying to leave the hive to re-orient themselves.  This will hopefully prevent them from returning to the location that they remembered as home........the old hive location.

Now the waiting begins.  The cells should hatch in a day or two (assuming there are alive queens in those cells).  The new queens will emerge and take a few days to relax and get to know everyone.  Then they will begin their mating flights.  The latest studies show that a virgin queen will mate with 15+ drones before returning to the hive to begin her reign.  So, within the next approximately two weeks I should find brood in the two hives.  Don't hold your breath until the next inspection, I'm already holding mine!

Thanks again for reading.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Strike Two: 07-09-2013 and 07-13-2013

Looks like my hive may be in big trouble.  I made my second attempt to split the hive and even though I had better weather, the bees still seemed agitated.  Last time I had looked, the top box was almost entirely full of honey.  When I opened the hive this time, I took the top box off first and started my inspection of the bottom two boxes.  I went through both bottom boxes (while trying not to pass out in a full bee suit and 85 degree weather) and I found nothing but pollen and honey!  What?  During my last full inspection (over a month ago now), the second box had lots of brood and I had spotted the queen.  This time I don't see any?  Well, there is no possibility to split the hive if there is no brood or eggs (if I want them to make their own queen).  I finished looking through the bottom box and the time was now after 9 PM so the bees were about to get even more annoyed once the sun went down.  I closed it up and began to ponder what had happened. 

07-13-2013:  Since I had skipped the top honey super (and I don't use queen excluders), I thought maybe the queen had gone back into the top box and I just didn't look there.  So, a few days later, I took a queen peek in the top box.  Honey, honey and more honey.  Dang, now what?  Could I have skipped a frame or two during my inspection and missed the brood?  That doesn't seem to make sense since that would be a very small area to have brood only on a few frames.  I saw no queen cells, so I don't think they swarmed.  The proportion of workers to drones seemed right, so the hive hasn't become a laying worker hive.......yet.  The last inspection where I spotted brood was on June 4th, so it has been more than 21 days, so the queen could have died and all the existing brood hatched out already.  By all my logic, it seems that they are now queenless and my only hope of saving them is to order a new queen.  Hopefully there is someone selling them this late in the year!
Smile Girls!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

False Start: 07-01-2013

I set out to split my hive yesterday and things did not turn out as I planned. 

First off, a split is a way of increasing the number of hives you have without having to buy more bees.  You can either buy a new queen and introduce her to the new split, or you can let the bees raise a new queen for themselves.  Since I know my current hive survived the winter and are very gentle bees (usually), I wanted to increase those genetics.  So my plan is to let them raise their own queen.  To do this, you just need to move a frame that has eggs into an empty hive and two frames of capped brood and two frames of pollen/honey.  Within a short amount of time the bees will realize the queen is no longer with them and they will begin the process of turning one of those eggs into a new queen.  In 16 days she would hatch and if all goes well, within the next week or so, she will have gone on her mating flight and returned to the hive to begin laying eggs.

My inspection started as planned and the top box had quite a bit of honey and pollen in it and all the brood that was there before had hatched.  No more eggs had been placed in the top box so the queen has moved down into the lower two boxes.  Since I spotted her in the middle box last time, I expect she may be in the very bottom box now.  I breezed through the first box pretty quickly and set it aside, ready to get to the real work of finding the queen and the frames with brood and eggs.  There were a lot more bees in the next box and I put a bit of smoke on them to move them out of the way of my hive tool.  The frame on the end that I tried to pull had a lot of comb with honey in it built far out from the frame.  I was unable to move it without crushing bees against the hive wall and as I tried to maneuver it a second time I was met with about four bees that started smacking into my veil.  When bees head butt you like that, it is a sign that they do not appreciate you being there and they are getting annoyed.  I stepped back for a second and let the bees calm down for a bit.  After a minute, I went back in and tried to get the frame out again and I was met with a slightly larger barrage of about 10 bees butting into my veil.  <<Sigh>>  Frustration set in on me as I realized I was not even going to get into this box without pissing them off.  Another reason that the bees were probably annoyed was because it was cool (in the mid 60's), very windy, and very cloudy out.  Generally speaking, you are suppose to wait until it is warm, calm and sunny out to do an inspection.  I guess three strikes and you are out!  I decided that it just wasn't my day and put the top box back on and closed up the hive.

Hopefully this coming weekend will be nicer and I can try again.

Until next time, thanks for reading!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Hive Inspection: 06-04-2013

It is always fun for me to be able to share my beekeeping experiences with people.  During this inspection I had a friend of mine along to help.  I also enjoy teaching "newbees" all about the different miracles in the hive.  This inspection allowed me a lot of opportunities to do so!

We saw pollen, nectar, capped honey, open brood, capped brood, drone brood, hatching baby bees, queen cups and the queen!  I'm not sure what else there would be in a hive that I would even want to show someone.  It is really hard to see eggs and I don't care to show someone Varroa mites!

I've come to realize that people judge the strength of their hive by how many frames the bees are actually covering.  So I made sure to take note of this.  As of last inspection, I knew the queen was in the top honey super after the long, cold winter and there was plenty of brood there.  I was hoping all the brood had hatched out (new egg to hatching = 21 days) and the queen had moved down into the bottom two brood boxes.  Well, I had half of it correct.  She has moved down and been laying in the bottom boxes but she must have also laid a few more eggs in the honey super as well.  Here is a really weird brood pattern because of this:

Not only is there uncapped nectar and pollen scattered around, but there are little pockets of brood here and there and a few drone cells along the bottom edge toward the right.  I was hoping all the brood would be out of there so I can use these frames for honey later in the year.  I could use this frame as a part of the split I plan to do in the next week or so.

One of the greatest things in the hive to witness is a new bee being "born" or emerging from its cell for the first time.  Watching them poke out and move their antennae around is amazing!  Look right in the center patch of capped brood and you can see two little heads poking through and looking around!

 The bees were only covering about 5 / 10 frames in the top box and most of the empty frames hadn't really been built out much.  So, onto the next box!

It took me a while to figure out how to get the first frame out without squashing a bunch of bees, but with a little smoke and hive tool manipulation, I was able to get it started.  On this frame I was very pleased to see a SOLID patch of open brood.  You can see right along the center of the photo a whole bunch of pearly white glistening larvae!  Nice!

I would suspect the queen is probably actively laying eggs somewhere in this box.  I was really hoping to spot her too so that I could show my friend the queen in all her glory.  On the very next frame I pulled out, there she was!

Can you spot her?  No?

How about now?
I know, they all look like "bees", right?  Well, if you still can't spot her, she is just slightly above dead center in the photo.  Her abdomen is darker brown and less striped looking.  Also, her abdomen sticks out way past her wings.  Hopefully you spotted her!

At this point in the inspection I decided not to go through every frame in the box.  And I decided not to go into the very bottom box either.  I had seen and shown all the really important things and the inspections always take longer than you'd like to think.  The bees were probably covering 8 / 10 hives so that box was pretty strong.  I closed the hive up and called it a day. 

I was happy to see that the queen was strongly laying in the lower box and that there were a few drone cells dotting the bottom of some frames.  I did not see any drones walking around but I'm sure they will be out within a few days for sure.  This is important because I intend to split the hive and have them raise their own queen.  A new virgin queen will need drones and if there aren't any around then she isn't going to be properly mated.  Not that she would mate with her own drones, but if you have drones in your own hive, then there are probably drones out in the wild too!

Next post I hope to be showing you my new split.  Until then, thanks for reading!

Friday, May 3, 2013

You Take the Good, You Take the Bad: 2013-04-30

We have had really nice weather here in Michigan for about the last week.  It was a long time in coming but it is finally here.  So, of course, I was eager to get into the hive(s) and see what the girls are up to.  I had a few tasks left over from winter that I needed to attend to as well.  First off, removing and cleaning up my dead hive, Green Hive.  I began to disassemble Green Hive and quickly noted that the bees from White Hive were greedily robbing out all the remaining honey left over in Green Hive!  It didn't take them long to find an undefended honey source!  I pried each box apart and hauled them away from the bee yard.  I then applied a liberal amount of smoke to each box to try and drive the remaining bees out.  Finally, the last box was removed and only the bottom board remained with the deceased remnants of Green Hive gathered in a sad pile.

I scanned through the dead bees to see if I could find the queen and I did not see her.  I plan on going through all the frames from each box and decide if I will melt down the wax or keep them for later use.  Hopefully I will find what was left of the winter cluster somewhere in there.

The second task I needed to complete was the remove the extra sugar I had placed in White Hive as emergency winter feed.  I'm not sure they really ate much of it.  Anyway, I removed it and put some empty frames back in.  Now onto the inspection!

Typically the bees will start in the bottom boxes during the beginning of winter and gradually move up through the hive over the course of the winter, eating honey as they go.  So, come the spring, you expect to find them at the top of your hive and that is where they were.  I pulled the first frame and BAM, there was the queen!  I'd like to think my queen spotting abilities have improved but this time was way too easy.  She just visually jumped right out to me.  I could see that she was doing her job as the frame was fairly well covered in sealed brood, eggs and larvae.  The workers have also packed quite a lot of pollen along the top of this frame as well.

Brood Frame
I zoomed in a bit with the camera once I saw the larvae because I usually cannot spot eggs unless I'm looking at a photo.  The eggs are about the size of a grain of rice, so I don't think my vision is that bad yet.  Can you see the larvae of various ages tucked in their cells?  They look like little 'C' shaped grubs.

Here is a slightly closer look with a lot of pollen packed in near the off to the lower right in the photo.  Pollen is very important in raising new bees so they keep it stored close!
Larvae with pollen
As I continued my inspection, I became concerned when I saw brown spots along the top and sides of some of the frames.  These brown spots are also referred to as bee poo  =)  Normally bees are very sanitary and never "go" inside the hive.  If they go inside the hive it can be the sign of a disease called "Nosema".  It is a spore that infects the gut of a bee and causes intestinal problems.  I've also read that it could be simply "bee dysentery" and could easily clear up on its own.  I will have to closely monitor this in the future.  I may decide to swap out some of these frames once all the brood has hatched out of them.

Nosema or bee dysentery?
 During an inspection you check for a few things:  Queen?  Check!  Eggs?  Check!  Open and Closed Brood?  Check!  Pollen?  Check!  Honey?  Check!  Things are looking pretty good.  The last thing I'm looking for are drones.  Spring time is also swarm time and usually the first drones are emerging at the same time.  I'm also planning on splitting this hive and you need drones in the air to mate with a new queen.  I did not spot any drones nor did I see any drone brood, so it looks like they might be a few weeks away yet.  I saw the first dandelion in the yard so I think a nectar flow is coming soon!

All in all I guess you take the good (they survived the winter) and you take the bad (maybe have Nosema), you take 'em both and there you have the facts of life.  Sorry.  Really bad but I couldn't resist!

Until next time, thanks for reading.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Survivor Bees!: 2013-04-03

My wife and I just returned from an awesome trip to Brentwood, CA to see our daughter, son-in-law and "grandpuppy".  It was easy to think about my bees shivering back home when we were walking around in our shorts in 65 degree California sun!  So, after returning home and getting the luggage unpacked, one of my first tasks was to put on my boots and head out to check on how the girls were doing.  It was bright and sunny, but the temperature was only about 38 degrees.  Looking out to the hives, I noticed that the wind breaks I had made looking out of kilter somehow.  As I approached, I saw that they were partially out of the ground and leaning heavily up against both hives.  My pace quickened as I walked up to White Hive to see that the wind break had pushed the outer cover partially off the hive!!  AHHHHH!  Part of the inner cover was completely exposed to the elements.  Great!

The bees survive almost all the way through the winter, just to see them die because my stupid wind break opened up the hive.  Lame!  I pulled the wind break off of the hive and braced myself for the worst.  I removed the brick holding down the top cover, set it aside and held my breath as I removed the top cover.  Hallelujah I see movement!  There is the cluster still holding fast against the cold right underneath the opening in the inner cover!!  Those are some tough bees!

Thank the good Lord that all hope is not lost!  Looks like the weather this week is going to be in the upper 40's only dropping down into the 30's at night.  With an entire week of above freezing temperatures forecast, that should be a piece of cake for these hardy girls!!  I think I'm going to bide my time for the first above 50 day before opening them back up again.  Maybe a knock test every few days is in order until then   =)