Friday, June 27, 2014

Guest Beekeeper : 2014-06-25

One of the fun things about beekeeping for me is teaching others about bees.  I have found many seemingly willing students.  Or at least ones that feign interest while I blab on and on about the bees.  I have also tried to get as many of these people as possible into the beehives.  For this inspection, I was fortunate enough to have Byron be my guest beekeeper.  It sure doesn't hurt to have an extra set of hands either!

My main concern for this inspection was to make sure the bees hadn't run out of room, since each hive consisted of only one box.  At this point they should be covering most of the frames and be ready for a second box to be added.  I was also hoping I hadn't waited too long and they weren't preparing to swarm!

Green Hive:

I took my time going through this hive since I wanted to be able to show Byron all the facets of beekeeping.  How to separate and manipulate the frames.  How to use the smoker and hive tool.  And what to look for in the hive: nectar, pollen, honey, eggs, larvae, capped cells, workers, drones and the queen.  The bees had just started to draw wax on the first two frames in the hive so I was able to show him how they create the wax in an empty frame.  He was also able to see the festooning behavior of the bees as they constructed the new wax comb.  The queen in this hive remained elusive and we did not spot her.  Although we did see some eggs and very young lava so she was there somewhere.  A second deep box of empty frames is now on this hive.  I have a feeling I should have used a technique called pyramiding to encourage them to move into the new box.  If they haven't done so by the next inspection I will make it so.

White Hive:

This hive had a second box added with some frames from the hive that died this past winter.  Some were empty brood frames and some were filled with honey.  Since this hive appears stronger, the bees were already working these frames.  After going through these I let Byron take over the inspection.  I'm sure it was his observation of my fantastic abilities that allowed him to jump right in like a pro!!  LOL

Byron inspecting the hive
The queen in this hive seems incredible to me.  She has solid brood patters across almost every single frame.  This hive will sure need the room in that second box!

Lots of brood
Even more brood
I never get tired of seeing new bees being born and emerging from their cells.  This inspection was no disappointment when we spotted 3 drones being born at the same time!

Welcome to the hive boys

After Byron had pulled 8 frames I thought for sure I was going to strikeout in showing him the queen.  But when we pulled frame 9 there she was!

Smile Queeny!
After watching her run around for a bit, we completed the inspection and closed up the box.

All in all, both hives are doing well and it was a great evening for an inspection.  Next inspection I will hopefully see that the queens have moved up into the second box and started laying eggs there.  I'm also planning on creating one or two nucleus hives and buying a "northern" queens to put in them.  At worst, this will allow me to have some backup hives in case one of the hives fails.  At best they will become fully established hives with better genetics for surviving these horrible Michigan winters!

Until next time, thanks for reading!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Second Inspection: 2014-06-10

I was very eager to complete this second inspection for a few reasons.  First, I was very eager to retrieve my fist set of Arduino Smart Hive data!  Second, the hives are currently at Installation +30 days (Bee Math) and there should be many more young bees in the hive.  Not only will these bees be nurses for the next generation, but they will also be wax comb builders (Honey Bee Worker Jobs).  So, they should be expanding the nest area and allowing more bees to forage for nectar and pollen.  The increasing number of bees also means they will be running out of space soon.  Normally in nature, the size of the cavity the bees live in does not increase and when they run out of room they swarm.  Part of being a beekeeper is controlling the bee's swarming nature by adding more space (boxes) and I needed to see if it was time to add another box or not.  If your hive does swarm you've lost probably half of your bees and your old queen.  Not a good thing if you actually want any honey.  Plus most of your neighbors probably wouldn't appreciate a swarm of bees landing in their yard!  Well, onto the inspections...

Green Hive:

I opened the lid and found that my ventilation board with my electronics in it was nicely stuck to the top of the lid.  There must have been some propolis left on the underside of the lid and it works really nicely as glue.  I spent a few minutes trying to remove the ventilation form and when I finally removed it, I notice a LARGE, furry black spider resting comfortably on the underside of the lid.  Thankfully I was armed with a steel hive tool and dispatched the menace quickly.  I really dislike spiders but I also know they do eat "bad" insects, so I try to leave them alone when I spot them in the garden.  But when they are around my bees I show now mercy!  I'm sure beekeepers in Arizona, Florida or Australia can get some really nasty surprises around their hives.  Yikes. 

Anyway, after all that drama, I pulled the SD memory card from the Arduino and downloaded the data.  My first disappointment was that it appeared that it only logged about 3 days worth of data.  It appears my 6 AA battery pack didn't last very long at all.  I'll be looking into an alternate power source for sure now.

Arduino Smart Hive data

With that said, it was cool to see that the general data collection does work!  From the data it looks like the external sensor might be a little flaky since the humidity spiked at 100% a number of times and the temperature measured at 103.82 F on June 2, 3:22 PM.  According to the weather report on that day, the highest it hit was 82 F.  Other than that oddity, the data looks consistent.  What I really like seeing are the readings from the brood area.  The temperature reading is a very flat, steady line, right around 95 F.  Despite what the outside temperature is, they do a fantastic job of maintaining the same temperature and humidity levels where the baby bees are being raised.

Pulling the first two frames from the hive, I saw they were still empty.  The third frame in was built much wider because of the empty space next to it.  With the top down view in the photo below, you can see how the wax sticks out past the top bar of frame 3.

Green Hive
Frame 3 was heavy with honey and frame 4 was the first to have brood on it.  Typically the brood nest is toward the middle of the hive so it was no surprise to see frame 5 had a lot of brood on it.  The other side of this frame had a large empty area where all the baby bees had already hatched out of their cells.

Hatched Brood
Frame 6 looked very similar to 5.  Frame 7 was about 50% covered with capped brood and had a large section of new wax drawn out.  Looking closely I could see there were eggs in almost every cell in the new section of wax.

Frame 7
Frame 8 and 9 actually had some large patches of brood on them with an empty queen cup as well.

Queen Cup
Thankfully there wasn't anything in the cup so it doesn't look like they are preparing to swarm or replace the queen.  The last frame hadn't really been touched by the bees since the last inspection.  So in total there are still 3 empty frames in Green Hive.  Looks like I'll be ready to add another box during my next inspection.  They are coming along nicely!

White Hive:

The first thing I noticed after removing the inner cover of White Hive was that I could see bees looking up from between almost every frame!  This hive in increasing in numbers more quickly than Green Hive for sure.

Looking into White Hive
The bees had stored quite a bit of nectar and pollen and the brood nest started a few frames in.  The queen in this hive knows how to lay some eggs!  Look at the photo below.  This frame is wall to wall brood with very few empty cells.  They will be bursting at the seems very soon.  I will need to add a second box for sure next week!

Lots of future bees
You can also see the patch of drone brood that was built along the bottom of this frame.  And speaking of drones, I was able to witness one being born.  Very cool!  You can watch the 30 second video here:

The last thing I did before concluding the inspection, was to change the entrance reducers on both hives from the small opening to the medium sized opening.  The population should be steadily increasing now on both hives so they should have no trouble defending a larger entrance.  This will also help alleviate any congestion as the foragers come and go all day long.

Looks like I have a lot to prepare for the next inspection.  New boxes to add and hopefully another way to power my Arduino.  So, until then thanks for reading!

Monday, June 2, 2014

First Inspection of the year : 2014-06-01

Twenty one days since I installed my two packages and I finally opened the hives up to take a look.  I should have done so much sooner but it sure seems like everything needs to be done all at the same time during the late spring.  It is always exciting to dive in and see what the girls have decided to do inside the hive despite the guidance the beekeeper has given them!  Bees don't read beekeeping books to figure out what they are suppose to do  =)

Green Hive:

The one nice thing about the inspections early in the year is that there aren't as many bees as there are during summer.  It makes it much easier to pull frames and move things around when there aren't bees covering everything.  You also don't need to use as much smoke since a few puffs can easily get most of the bees to move.  I was able to pull the first three frames quickly since the bees hadn't even touched them.  They are foundationless frames, so they are completely empty and the bees haven't thought about drawing out new comb on them yet.  I reached frame 4 and I could see the beginning of the honey and pollen storage. 

First inspection of Green Hive

Frame 5 had more pollen and honey and frame 6 was the first brood frame.  Interesting pattern on this frame with bits of pollen scattered among the brood cells.  About a third of the frame (on the right side of the photo) was all drone brood.

Brood frame

A little spotty so far but not something I'm too concerned about at this point.  It can be common in new queens.  I'm happy the queen is raising brood and she is fertile enough to have worker brood.  Next frame over was almost identical with drone on one side and worker brood on the other.  I spotted a queen cup but it was empty.  It is not uncommon to see queen cups.  The bees like to make them just in case they need them.  Frame 8 had some new, white comb drawn by the bees and they were starting to bridge it over into the next frame.  This is one of the struggles of letting the bees build their own comb.  They don't always build it in perfectly straight sections.  I cut some of the comb out and mashed some more together to try and make it straight.  I also swapped frame 9 with 8 in the hopes that they would make the small amount of comb there straight.  The last frame was empty. 

I did not spot the queen and I didn't specifically see any eggs but they seem to be going along pretty well.  As long as I see some new larva during my next inspection, I'll know the queen is still there.

So, besides doing my first inspection on Green Hive, I was also ready to deploy my Smart Hive Arduino system I have been working on.  It was a bit of a pain to run the one sensor through the inner cover without having someone to hold it but I was able to position it between frame 5 and 6.  Now I can only hope the bees don't chew through the wire insulation or decide to build bridge comb all around it and make a mess.  The second sensor goes out the side vent hole to measure the outside temp and humidity.  The third sensor rests near the Arduino in the vent board.

Arduino deployment

I'm looking forward to posting the first data points in my next blog entry!!

White Hive:

 The frames in the White Hive are fully drawn out plastic Honey Super Cell frames.  They fit much tighter in the box than the wooden frames in Green Hive do.  I have a "J-Hook" hive tool and it really helps to pull that first frame out.  A few bees danced across the frame I removed and I began to pull the second frame out.  For some reason, I did a mental double take and picked the first frame back off the ground where I had set it.  My eyes popped open when I realize there was the queen!!!  Running around on the frame with only a handful of other bees there!  Very unusual since the queen usually has a group of bees around her taking care of her needs at all time.  I quickly picked the frame up and hovered it back over the middle of the hive until I saw her walk off the frame and back down into the box.  That could have been bad if she had walked off into the grass or dirt somewhere!

The next two frames were empty like the first but on frame 4 I found the first scattering of brood.

Drone comb on plastic frames

On the bottom of this frame you can see that the bees decided to build some comb off of the bottom of the plastic frame.  Since the bees cannot enlarge the plastic cells, they have to build spots of comb with cells large enough for the queen to lay drones in. The next frame had a little brood on it and some nice colored pollen in the upper the queen I almost squashed earlier!

Hi queenie!
Can you spot the queen the frame?  Starting from the middle bottom, about a third of the way up, just a bit to the right of center she sits in all her glory.  I pulled the next frame and was pleased to see it was solid brood!  A really nice pattern with very few cells still empty.  To my surprise, the next two frames were packed with brood too!  Wow!!  This queen is really a good egg layer.  I pulled frame 9 and it looked almost entirely empty until I held it up with the sun at my back.  When the light revealed the bottom of the cells, they were filled with tiny eggs.  This hive is going to be booming in a short period of time with this queen!

It is looking like a nice start to the 2014 beekeeping season.  The first new bees should start hatching any day now so the currently diminishing population of bees will make a nice turn the other direction building up to the hive's peak population in the summer.

Until the next inspection report, thanks for reading!