Thursday, July 16, 2015

2015-07-15: Cut Out Hive and New Queens!

I've finally accomplished two of the goals I set for this year: split my hives and get some better genetics with some Michigan raised "survivor" queens!  I learned about the Northern Bee Network at the Michigan Beekeepers conference in the Spring, so I went through their list of Queen breeders and found one that followed practices I conform to.  I placed an order for three queens and on Wednesday morning I received a phone call at 6 AM from the post office telling me to come get my bees.

Three Queens
The Splits:

The basic concept of how I was going to do my splits was to select two frames of open/capped brood and two frames of honey/pollen from the donor hive and place them into the 5 frame nuc box.  The remaining frame would be an empty frame with plastic foundation with the new queen cage on it.  Key number one is making sure you don't accidentally transfer your existing queen into the new hive!

I began in Green Hive by quickly scanning a few frames in the honey supers just to see how they were doing.  Almost every frame of foundation was drawn and filled with nectar.  They are doing great!  I then removed the two honey supers and started going through the brood boxes.  The first few frames on the outside were solid honey.  After I made a few adjustments to the bulges in the comb, I transferred them to the nuc box.  Two honey frames done.  Now to find the brood frames and the queen.  Next few frames had some eggs and a lot of honey so I didn't take them.  Frame five had some nice capped brood, so I meticulously studied it looking for the queen.  Flipped the frame over and looked for her again.  Back and forth two more times after that and I was satisfied she wasn't there.  I walked over to put it into the nuc and checked it one more time.  In it went.  Frame number six was another good brood frame.  Looking....looking....flip....looking....bam!  There she is hiding in the gap between the frame and the comb.  Each time I flipped the frame she'd run back to the other side.  Sneaky!  I took a queen marking cup my wife had bought for me and scooped her up into it and set her off to the side (more on this later).

Queen in the marking cup
I took this frame and into the nuc it went.  I pulled out the first queen cage and the queen looked alive and well inside.  I then noticed it had a piece duct tape over the end.

Queen cage
I assumed the duct tape was to prevent the candy from being eaten by the bees during shipment, but since the end is stuck down into a hole in the shipping cage, I'm not really sure how they would get to it.  Anyway, I removed the tape, exposed the candy and wedged the cage in between two of the frames.  First nuc complete!  I took another one of the queen cages and put her into the donor hive and closed it up.

First nuc complete
The second nuc was a bit more difficult.  After pulling off the honey super I went through the entire first brood box and only found one good frame of honey and one good frame of brood.  I did spot the queen and made sure that frame was out of the way.  I had to go into the bottom box to look for two more frames.  Generally I don't really go into the bottom box unless I really have to.  You always end up crushing some bees when moving boxes around and they are also really heavy!  Thankfully I pulled the first frame in the bottom box and it was solid honey.  Into the nuc with you!  The next frame was a fantastic brood frame!  Nuc #2 was complete with the added plastic frame and queen cage.  I replaced the frames from the donor hive with the same empty plastic frames and put the boxes back together.

This all sounds pretty simple but all told it took about 3.5 hours!


Remember that queen I had removed and put into the marking cup?  Well, the reason I removed her from the hive was because I was noticing many signs from this hive of what I think is Chronic Bee Paralysis Virus. The characteristic symptoms are bees with a greasy black shiny appearance, trembling bees unable to fly, clusters of bees walking on the ground and healthy bees trying to drag the sick bees out of the hive.  I was able to spot all of these symptoms.

Sick "greasy" looking bee
Clusters of bees walking on the ground
Sick bees being dragged out
This disease is typically vectored in from the dreaded Varroa mite.  I haven't done mite counts yet this year but when I do I wouldn't be surprised to see a higher count in this hive.  Since they don't have treatments for this disease, the recommendation is to requeen the hive.  This will give some new genetics that hopefully won't be as susceptible to the disease, as well as giving a break in the brood cycle while the new queen is being released and eventually begins to lay eggs.  The break in the bee's brood cycle also gives a break to the Varroa mite's cycle as well since they only reproduce in capped brood.

So as far as requeening goes, putting a new queen into the hive is one thing.  Removing the old queen is another.  And dispatching the old queen yet another.  Is it sad that I was getting all worked up over having to kill the old queen?  Well, I couldn't get myself to just "pinch" her.  Since you can make a swarm lure by soaking dead queens in alcohol, I though about just tossing her into a jar of alcohol.  But the thought of drowning freaks me out so I couldn't do that either.  I finally decided to put her in the refrigerator.  If it is anything like dying from hypothermia, then slowly "going to sleep" from the cold might not be such a bad way to go.  I hope it works that way anyway!  Green Hive queen is dead.  Long live the new queen!

Cut Out Hive:

 The bees from the cut out seem to be settling into their new home, Yellow Hive.  I have fed them two mason jars filled with honey so far to make up for all the honey I stole from them during the cut out.  I found the girls have done a really good job of attaching the combs rubber banded into the frames.  And they've started to chew through the rubber bands as well.

Cut out comb
 There are plenty of larva on the frames as well as nectar and pollen so that is a good sign.  The not so great sign is that I did NOT get the queen.  Here is the evidence:

Emergency Queen cells
I spotted numerous capped and uncapped emergency queen cells across a number of frames.  Probably around 8 in total.  The good thing is that at least they had some viable larva that they could start turning into queens.  I had thought about ordering another queen to place into this hive but since they already have some capped cells, I decided to let them raise their own queen.  A capped queen cell should emerge in about 8 days from now.  Twelve days after that (assuming she has good weather for her mating flights and doesn't get eaten by a bird) she should be laying eggs.  So, sometime in mid August Yellow Hive should be back in action again!

Next Steps:

I'll be checking the hives to make sure the new queens have been released in a few days.  After that I will do another full inspection to make sure there are new eggs and larva.  I'll plan on doing some mite sampling at that time as well.

Until then.......thanks for reading!

Friday, July 10, 2015

2015-07-08: First Hive Cut Out

I received a message from a friend of mine a few weeks ago about a guy who had some honey bees living under his shed.  So I called him up and asked him if he was SURE they were honey bees and not yellow jackets or hornets.  I asked him how big the shed was and how they were entering underneath the shed.  Last night I was finally able to schedule a time to go out to do the extraction.

Prior to embarking on this adventure, I watched about every JPTheBeeMan video on doing cut outs.  Constructed a bee vac.  Found a checklist of items to bring to a cut out.  And about anything else I could think of looking for.  My basic plan was this: Verify they are honey bees.  Find where the hive entrance is.  Figure out how to expose the nest by removing the floor.  Figure out how much space under the floor the entire hive occupied.  Identify the honey combs and vacuum up as many bees as possible in that area.  Remove the honey and put it into a bucket.  Start removing the brood combs while trying to spot the queen.  If spotted, cage her and put her in a safe place.  Keep removing the brood combs and cut them to fit the empty frames.  Use rubber bands to secure the combs in place and put them into a hive body.  Rinse and repeat until done.  Easy right?  We began at approximately 7:15 PM.

The Shed
Hive Entrance
First off, the floor of the shed was plywood and it appeared to be glued to the floor joist.  So it was not as easy as removing a few nails or screws and lifting the floor off.  My friend Keith was helping me and he had brought a circular saw and a Sawzall.  He started cutting the floor along the joist and after some smoke and dust the floor was free. 

First Floor Cut
 Lifting up on it we could see that the combs went a little over half way down the 8 foot long section of the shed.

First Peek at the bees

I tested out the bee vac to make sure it would work as the first few bees found their way into the interior of the shed.  So far so good.  We gathered our wits and decided to lift the floor section up and lean it against the wall.  This was mistake number one.

Floor leaned up against the wall
 We lifted the section and at first all was well.  We started vacuuming bees and making a visual of where the honey was and where the brood nest was.  The problem started as the weight of the honey (now perpendicular to gravity) started to cause the combs to collapse and drop to the floor.  Once one comb fell out, the neighboring combs started to do likewise and I was scrambling to put the combs in the bucket as Keith tried to hold them in place.  Meanwhile, honey is now going everywhere and pooling on the floor.  I was tentative and careful with the combs for about a minute before I started scrambling to get them in the bucket as fast as I could.  This is when I received my first sting.  As I picked up a comb to put in the bucket there was a bee on the other side that got me.  The nitrile gloves I wear don't stop stings but I do believe they prevent the sting from going in very far at all.  So it wasn't too bad and we continued to vacuum bees and put the honey combs into the bucket as quickly as we could.  At this point all of our tools were covered in honey and I hadn't even put water into one of the buckets I had brought to wash off with.  We had the owner fill one up and we tried to wash the honey off (yeah right).  After we got into to groove of getting the honey into the bucket we came to realize our second problem.  I had brought three buckets and it was not going to be enough.  We weren't half way into it and one bucket was full already.  We mashed down the combs as much as we could and kept going.  Finally, we started to approach the brood nest and bucket number two was now almost full.  All thoughts of being able to spot and capture the queen quickly went out the window.  On top of all this chaos we were now starting to loose daylight.

Half way done

It was about 8:30 PM when we started cutting out brood combs to fit in the frames.  Thankfully Keith had a very sharp and flexible filet knife that worked well but cutting through brood is never pleasant.  Keith kept passing me combs and I kept cutting and rubber banding them into the empty frames.  I think the bees were fairly tolerant of all this destruction until we got to the brood nest.  Keith made some comments that there were bee guts everywhere.  At the time I just assumed he meant because of all the bees that were getting stepped on or the brood cut by the knife.  What I didn't realize was that as he was cutting off the brood combs, he could see the bees stinging his hands.  He was wearing some sort of canvas mechanic's gloves and they must have been really good because none of the stings were penetrating the gloves. 

Lots of stings in the glove
This was a good thing because he was able to keep cutting the combs and handing them to me as I was putting them in the frames......until we ran out of frames.  Ugh.  I had brought two boxes of empty frames....except one of them was in use by the bee vac.  Dumb!  Luckily I was able to remove from the frames some of the brood combs that were empty or mostly drones and replace them with the remaining worker brood comb.  After I did this we were able to get the last of the combs in the frames and were almost finished.

Banding combs in place
Here is what it looked like when the last comb was finally removed.

Comb attachements
I think the combs were about four feet long.  That was a big hive!

9:15 PM and all we had left to do was to vacuum up as many of the remaining bees as possible, pick up and clean off our equipment and close up the shed.  This is where the vacuum started to loose suction.  We pulled the vacuum hose off, closed up the box and tried to flush out the hose.  After spraying water into the hose for a while, a big clump of bees started to wash out.  There were so many bees in the box at this point that I thought we couldn't vacuum any more in even after washing out the hose.  In hindsight I probably should have tried to vacuum more since there were still a few clumps of bees wandering around here and there and a small cluster on the outside of the shed.  I'm sure my exhaustion didn't help my thinking process. 

I shut the vacuum off and started to clean things up when I realized another mistake.  How was I going to put the box of brood combs onto the box of vacuumed bees without releasing all the bees I had just vacuumed?  Sadly, I had made a shim with a wire mesh insert for this very purpose.........and I left it at home!  You are suppose to place this shim on top of the vacuum box.  The wire mesh prevents the bees from exiting the vacuum box.  Then you place the brood comb box on top of the shim and then you pull the mesh out which allows the bees in the vacuum box to move up into the brood box.  So much for that idea.  Good thing for me that Keith's truck has a midgate and were able to put the brood box in the back and not have bees flying up into the cab of the truck with us.  9:30 PM and we finally had everything cleaned up and loaded into the truck.

Loading up
The ride back to Keith's house was full of thoughts of what we did right and what we could have done better.  More buckets, more frames, more hive boxes, more light, more time and don't hang the combs perpendicular to gravity were just a few of the changes we need to make if there is every a next time.  Once at Keith's we were able to weigh the buckets.  The honey came in at 51.96 pounds.  Subtract out the weight of the bucket and the weight of the wax and I'd guess around 45 pounds of honey.

Done.  Except for the fact that I now had to get the boxes home.  Get them set them up in the dark.  And open the box of vacuumed bees and put the brood box on top of them.  I was really worried that when I opened the bees in the dark after their recent trauma, that they were going to be pissed!  They did boil out of the box a bit but thankfully I was able to slide the brood box on top without too much trouble and the bees weren't flying much in the dark.  No additional stings there!

The following day I was able to pick up some new cement blocks and set everything up for the new hive.  I leveled the blocks and set up the bottom board.  I undid the ratchet straps on the vacuum box and transferred the brood box over first and then the box full of vacuumed bees.  They hadn't built any comb on the empty frames so I just shook them off the frames and into the box.  I then added two boxes of plastic frames on top and then the inner cover.  Since I had all their honey in a bucket, I figured they would need to be fed.  I took some honey from some crushed combs I had and put it in an inverted mason jar feeder and placed it on top of the inner cover.  I then stacked two empty boxes around the feeder and placed the outer cover on.  Without further adieu.....introducing Yellow Hive!

Bees in their new home
At this point I have no idea if I have the queen or not.  I have a feeling by the way the bees seem to be wandering all over the place, that the queen is not there.  I'm hoping I'm wrong but I'm going to check on them in a few days.  If I see queen cells or young larva in the brood box then I will know one way or the other.

Until next time, thanks for reading!