Sunday, January 27, 2013

Knock Test: 01-26-2013

After a very cold week here in Michigan (temps around 0 degrees all week), I trudged out to the hives just to do a quick check of the sticky boards and knock on the front door to see if anyone answers  =)

I pulled the sticky board on Green Hive and there was no new debris at all.  I think at this point, their fate is sealed.  The few remaining bees probably did not have enough bodies to keep warm.  I'll probably open them up the next time we have a warm spell and give them a final <ugh> check.

The sticky board on White Hive still looks promising!  Here it is:

Debris on sticky board
The lines aren't really distinct but to me it looks like there are about four solid frames of bees here.  It actually took quite a bit of prying to get the sticky board to come out.  I think I must have ruptured a few honey cells the last time I opened this hive and some of the honey dripped down onto the board causing it to stick to the grooves in the bottom board.  Based on where the debris was I knew the cluster was on the left side of the hive and as I leaned down to put my ear to that side of the hive, I heard a nice solid buzzzzzzz!  It took so much prying to get this sticky board out that I didn't even need to knock.  Keep your fingers crossed for White Hive to make it!  Temps are suppose to come up into the 30's for a while this week.  Go White Hive!!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Hive Inspection: 01-12-2013

With another veritable heat wave (just above 50 degrees) here in Michigan back on January 12, I had to go and see how "my girls" were doing!  Doing an inspection would also give me a chance to try out my new "J-Hook" hive tool that I received as a Christmas gift.  Exciting stuff for a beekeeper that just sits around the house in the Winter wondering how cold his bees are  =)

Flash back to previous hive status reports and you'll see that Green Hive was going strong with plenty of stores (honey) and White Hive had much fewer bees and no stores other than the sugar feed I had placed in the hive and what I had stolen from Green Hive (1 frame of honey).  What I found when I opened the hives was not what I was expecting.

Green Hive:
I opened the lid and did not see any bees in the honey super.  Still lots of honey there with almost every frame full of capped honey or nectar.  Removed that box and proceeded to look at the top box.  Strange, no bees moving around and none flying.

Top Box with new hive tool

I pried the box off with my new hive tool and after cracking through a lot of propolis (I haven't removed this box is quite some time), I removed the top box and began to look at the bottom box.  Sitting on top of the frames was a small cluster of dead bees around some areas of dark "stuff".  After brushing off the dead bees and removing some burr comb, this is what it looked like.

I believe this is a sign of bee dysentery.  One possible cause of this is too much liquid in the bees diet when they don't have the ability (because of cold temps) to fly outside and "relieve" themselves.  Another possibility is a disease called Nosema.  During warmer temps you usually see signs of this by seeing brownish streaks on the outside front of the hive.  The bees have runny stools and aren't as in control as they normally would be.  I'm sure you all are fascinated by this talk of bee poo, but I guess it is an important symptom to pay attention to!

Anyway, I pried apart a number of these frames to find another small cluster of dead bees (golf ball size).  This is nothing to really be concerned about as you do expect to loose some bees during the Winter.  The next thing that concerned me was looking through the frames to find this:

I had no idea what these little white granules were sitting inside these honey cells.  Weird.  At first I thought maybe they were some sort of insect larvae (yuck).  Upon closer inspection I quickly dismissed that possibility.  Since they all appeared to be wet with nectar, I was hoping that perhaps it was just crystalized honey.  I posted this picture on some bee blogs and everyone was in agreement that this was just crystalized honey.  Whew!  I guess everything unexpected is enough to freak out a new beekeeper!

At this point I decided to put the box back together and right off this hive as a Winter kill for some unknown reason.  I put the heavy bottom box back on the stand (there is still a lot of stores in the boxes!), and I reached for the second box just in time to see that I was being observed...

A small cluster of bees with their heads peeking up at me!  Hmm, looks like they aren't dead after all.  Sadly, this cluster is still very small and at this point I do not hold out much hope that they will survive the Winter, despite all the honey still in the hive!  Since I did not break apart the frames in this box, I can hope that there were a lot more bees that just did not want to come up and say Hi.

White Hive:
As I opened this hive, I was expecting to see very little activity since this has been the weaker hive all season.  Upon removing the lid, I was met with two annoyed bees.  They loudly buzzed around my veil and continued to fly around me.  They were probably trying to tell me to shut the lid because it was still pretty flippin' cold out!  =)  I removed the inner cover to check on the top honey super that is holding four empty frames, one frame of honey and an empty space where I put down a bunch of sugar feed.  Here it is:


To my happy surprise there were a handful of bees merrily crawling over the pile of sugar.  Now that's good eats!  Looking down past the sugar into the box below, it looks like there is still some stored honey there as well.

Although I would like to have seen a bigger cluster of bees for this hive, I am pleased to see the amount of activity that this hive is showing.  As a little extra insurance policy, I decided to take a few of the honey frames from Green Hive and move them over into White Hive.  It is possible that I moved Green Hive's problem into White Hive by doing this but if White Hive starved to death from lack of honey, they would be equally as dead, so I decided to risk it.

All in all, it looks like I might still get one hive through the Winter.  At least another two months to go before we are close to Spring, so keep your fingers crossed!

As always, thanks for reading!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

BEEginnings New Year's Resolutions: 01-03-2013

Happy New Year All!

Generally speaking I never make a New Year's resolution.  But I suppose it would be wise of me to start thinking ahead and setting some goals for my beekeeping in 2013.  2012 was a good year and I certainly desire to learn from my mistakes and improve things this year!

To start at the start, I have to get the two existing hives through the Winter alive!  Green Hive is in good shape with stored honey (last time I checked) and I have put supplemental feed into White Hive.  It consists of a honey super (medium) with five frames removed.  One of the remaining five frames still in the box is a mostly capped frame of honey that I did not harvest from Green Hive.  The empty space normally used by the five frames left out is now occupied by a sheet of newspaper laid on top of the frames in the box below and a bunch of raw cane sugar poured on top of the newspaper.  I misted the sugar with some water to make a small crust on the surface of the sugar pile.  Otherwise the bees can start removing the sugar thinking it is trash.  Ideally, this serves a number of functions: It is a source of emergency food if the bees consume all the remaining honey and the sugar and newspaper help to absorb some of the excess moisture in the hive.

I hope to have at least one "warm" day for the next three months that I will have a chance to quickly check the hives.  I think a day in the low 50's would be warm enough to pop the cover really quick to check them.

My second goal is to expand my operation to three hives!  If both my hives survive the winter, I plan on doing a split of whichever hive is stronger.  As a part of this split, I plan to let the bees raise a new queen of their own.  This will be sort of a foray into queen rearing or at least observing the bees as they do it.  An additional part of expansion is of course building a new hive, which I have already begun.  One of the lessons I learned this past year is that I shouldn't have ignored the comments I have read in numerous books that talked about standardizing box sizes.  I didn't think it would be that big of a deal to use all medium boxes until I wanted to move a medium sized frame into a deep sized box.

My third goal is to keep better records.  Of course I did inspection and I took a lot of pictures which did help, but having a standardized method of recording what was on each frame seems to be a good idea.  A clipboard with some paper would work, but I think I could create a nice little form that would make it easy.  Ten boxes on the form where I could write down the percentage of brood, honey and pollen on a given frame should work, right?

My last goal is to do a better job of IPM (Integrated Pest Management).  To be specific, I want to make sure I am doing a monthly sugar shake and mite count.  I am still resolved to be chemical free in my hives, but I at least want a baseline on how many mites are in there.  If they get too bad I could at least take some action such as doing a sugar shake on the entire hive, break the brood cycle by removing the queen or using drone comb to trap and freeze the mites.

Well, that is all for now.  Hope you all have a great year.  What are your bee related resolutions?  =)