Monday, September 29, 2014

Fall Prep: 2014-09-24

During this latest visit to the bee hives, I set out to accomplish the stated goals at the end of the previous bee blog:
  • Remove the honey from White Hive
  • Perform a powdered sugar roll mite sampling
  • Combine the two hives into one
With the help of my friend Keith, I was able to make it all happen in one evening.  You wouldn't think that you would open the hives up at 7 PM and a short time later you are loosing all the light because the sun is setting!  You sure don't worry about that during the summer when the sun doesn't set until well after 9:30 PM.

Step 1 - Remove the honey:  Since I have only ever had one hive that I need to remove honey from, I use a simple method of doing so.  Get an empty hive box and cover it with a damp cloth.  Remove a frame with honey on it.  Shake the frame with a sharp jerking motion until most of the bees are removed and brush the rest off.  Put the bee-free frame into the empty box and drape the damp cloth back over the box so bees don't get back onto the frames.  Someday if I have 5 hives all with multiple boxes of honey on them, then I may have to change my methodology.  Until then, this works just fine.

Step 2 - Perform mite sampling:  We live in a time when our European honey bees are plagued by an aptly named mite called Varroa Destructor.  This mite is a parasite of the Asian honey bee but was introduced here in the 1980's.  Our honey bees had no real resistance to them and they have been a huge problem ever since.  I won't treat my colonies with chemicals but it is a good idea to know if you have a really bad infestation of mites or not.  One of the methods of determining your mite level is called a powdered sugar roll.  First you take a jar with a mesh screened lid and get a 1/2 cup of bees in it (approximately 300 bees) from a brood frame.

Selecting a brood frame for mite sampling
Then you put the lid on and put some powdered sugar in the jar and then roll the sugar and bees around and around for a minute or two.

Where did this sugar blizzard come from?
The sugar causes the mites to loose their grip on the bees and they fall off.  You then shake the sugar out of the jar and the mites come with it.  Once you have shaken the sugar out, rolled the bees around some more and shaken it out again, you dump the disoriented bees back into the hive.  Their sisters are more than happy to groom the sugar off of them!  Since the sugar is white and the mites are red, it is very easy to spot them.  You spray a little water on the sugar and it quickly dissolves leaving you the mites and perhaps a few small pieces of debris.  Count the mites and you use the formula (mites / 3) * 2 = % infestation level.  You multiply the "mites per bee" number by 2 because you are assuming many more mites are in brood cells (University of Minnesota mite sampling method).

Stunned "ghost" bees poured back into the hive
For this exercise, I sampled one frame and had 4 mites.  So that gives me (4 / 3) * 2 = 2.67 % infestation level.  If you were really serious then you would do this to multiple brood frames in multiple boxes.  Or you would do this across multiple hives.  If your infestation level was high enough you would then decide to treat your hives or not.  A typical treatment threshold is somewhere around 10%.  For me, I just wanted to go through the exercise to really see how it was done.  I was also inspired by Bill over at the TheBeeVlog to get a digital microscope and take a closer look at the mites causing all these problems.  If you watch the video in that link, you will see some interesting detail on how they do the sampling.  Especially the little trick they use to get the bees in the jar.  It works!

Here are a few of the microscope photos of these nasty little buggers.

Varroa mite (top)

Varroa mite (bottom)

Mite with extended forelegs
So how would you like to carry one of these blood suckers around all day?  And you thought a Monday without coffee was rough??   =)

Step 3 - Combine the hives:  With Green Hive queenless and no hope of replacing her this late in the season, I did a "newspaper combine" of the two hives into one.  You just lay a sheet of newspaper over the top of one hive and stack the boxes from the other hive on top of the newspaper.  This allows the scents of one hive to mingle with the other before the bees are blended together.  This reduces or eliminates any fighting between the two colonies.

Newspaper combine of White and Green hives
Over the next few days the bees will chew through the sheet of newspaper and will be one big happy family ready to tough it out through the Winter.

This will be my last major beekeeping task for the year.  I did decide to buy some winter wraps and I will be putting them on the hive before the first "Polar Vortex" gets here.  I will also be placing a mouse guard on the entrance to prevent any unwanted residents during the Winter months.

As twilight descends on this inspection, it also descends on this beekeeping season.  I did not achieve most of my goals this year but I am hopeful that the bees will come through this Winter will flying colors.  I'm sure they will be eagerly awaiting Spring as much as I will be!

Until next time, thank you always for reading!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Bee Blog Slacker: 2014-09-20

Well a lot has happened in the bee world since my last post in June.  I guess things get crazy here in Michigan during the summer time when it seems so short but that is no excuse!  Thank you to my lovely daughter for reminding me that people are worried about the bees and they are left in suspense if I don't write these posts.....heheheheh  =)

Here is a quick summary of what has happened since:

Green Hive:  

Doing OK but not strong.  Had some queen drama where I found no brood in the hive during an inspection on 7/24 and found capped queen cells in White Hive.  I transferred the capped queen cells to the Green Hive and after looking through the photos I took during the inspection I spotted that there was a queen in Green Hive after all!!!  So either the queen in Green Hive was a virgin or not laying eggs for some other reason.

White Hive:  

Strong compared to Green Hive for sure.  This hive may have swarmed since I spotted all the capped and uncapped queen cells.  Usually they build swarm cells along the bottom of the comb so this does follow that pattern.  If they did swarm then about half of this colony is hopefully living in a cozy tree somewhere!

Lots of capped Drone brood and a few queen cells
So now fast forward from then end of July and into the end of September (that sounds really depressing actually).  I just did a full top to bottom inspection of Green Hive and I checked the honey super on White Hive to see if it was ready to come off.

Green Hive: 

The top box had about 4 totally empty frames.  It is too late in the year now for the bees to have enough incoming nectar to make wax.  So they will stay empty for the rest of this year.  There was one frame of solid honey and the rest of the frames had a mixture of honey, nectar and bee bread.

What the heck is bee bread you ask?  When bees bring the pollen back to the hive, another worker bee packs the pollen into a cell and adds some honey or nectar and enzymes to it.  This causes some fermentation to occur and breaks the pollen down into a more consumable form for the bees.

Lots of maroon colored bee bread on this frame
Compare the color of the bee bread to the color of the fresh yellow pollen on the back of this bees leg in this photo:

This bee bread is the primary source of food for developing brood.  Since this hive doesn't have any brood, they have a lot of bee bread stored.

The bottom box has only two empty frames and most of the remaining frames are packed full of bee bread or honey with very few empty cells.

Solid frame of honey

The bottom line for Green Hive is that they appear hopelessly queenless.  This late in the year there is really no possibility of buying a replacement queen.  I did check around online and every place I looked is sold out (and probably were sold out months ago).  Also, there is no hope of the bees having enough time to raise their own queen if I donated some eggs from White Hive.  It would take at least 16 days for a new queen to hatch.  By then it would be the middle of October and there would be no drones for her to mate with.  Matter of fact, during my inspection, I witnessed numerous drones being dragged out of the hive by their loving sisters.  I think the only option I have now is to combine this hive with White Hive (Newspaper Combine).  After I do that my remaining hive will go into Winter with FOUR deeps of food and bees.  No matter how bad the upcoming Winter is, that should be plenty to get them through it.

White Hive:

Even with the possibility that this hive swarmed earlier, it is still a strong hive.  They have managed to fill about half of a honey super.  Not great but better than nothing.  I plan to take this honey off when I combine Green Hive with this one.  I might be able to get 1 gallon of honey from this box.

What's Next:

I'm planning on doing the combine, removing the honey and doing a mite sampling tonight.  If I have enough time I'll extract the honey this weekend.  The next blog post will be up shortly!

As always, thanks for reading!