Sunday, April 29, 2012

1000s of Flight Paths

There is something amazing about seeing the organization of a bee colony extended beyond the combs.  It's like when you leave something sweet in the yard and then later find a trail of ants picking it apart.  There is the non-stop dusk-dawn activity at the hive entrance, and then on these semi-sunny days you can also see them flying in every direction as they head up and out over the trees.  You can catch them flickering in the sunlight as they zip through the air to some unknown destination.

Plenty of stuff blooming right now and you often only have to stop and wait a moment or two near a flowering bush/tree before you will see or hear them buzzing away.  I've often heard beekeepers say that the bees don't typically work rhododendron, however the giant old plants in the arboretum were just humming with the sound of bees today.  Bee's don't see color the same way we do, and blues are very appealing to them.  I can only image what it must be like for them to crawl into these big beautiful blue-purple flowers illuminated by sunlight.

On a Chinese Rhododendron collecting nectar and white pollen.

Collecting mounds of pollen from Oregon Mist

The cherries are pretty much wrapped up now and the apples are in full bloom.  Dandelions and Maples are also still going strong.   It's pretty safe to say spring has arrived in the last few weeks (better late than never).

On an Apple bloom

Hive Checks (4/29/2012)

The Librarians are finally starting to build comb.  Didn't powder sugar this inspection and in general the hive is looking healthier.  Lots of drones are hatching out and there is some worker brood on the way, but not as much worker brood as the other hives have right now.  Several practice queen cups present, but no larvae or eggs in them.  The hive is at 90% capacity and they are back-filling drone comb with nectar pollen.  The queen still has a spotty brood pattern.  Took three frames of pollen/brood and added to a nuc I made up with the Nuc C queen.  They took half a gallon of syrup this week.

Building new comb.  The bees hold onto each other to form a chain.  This is called festooning.

Picked this varroa off a drone.  They move around pretty quickly when they are on the bees.

Nuc C is at capacity which I've known for awhile.  The queen was laying on the first frame and I found a 2 day old egg in one of the many empty queen cups.  I moved the queen and two frames of brood into a new nuc with three frames from the Librarians.  This gives the Nuc C queen a new nuc with room to lay in and will break the swarm cycle.  While at the same time the bees in Nuc C have everything in place to raise a new queen.  They took half a gallon of syrup this week.

The Engineers are going great, and building comb quickly.  Very nice brood pattern and the queen was laying the first comb here as well but I'm not concerned for swarming just yet with all the new comb they are making.  They have drawn several new frames of comb and I added more bars to the brood nest to give them more space.  They took half a gallon of syrup this week.  

Much like the Engineers the Geeks are doing well and drawing out comb quickly.  There were several practice queen cups and added several bars to give them more room.  Watching this hive closely for possible swarming in the next few weeks.  This hive stores more pollen on average than all the other hives.  They also have lots of stored nectar, and are not touching syrup much.

The comb below they made in the summer of 2011 during the Knotweed flow that was half honey and half brood.  Now it's half worker brood and have drone comb.  This queen has a nice solid laying pattern.

The bigger raised cells on the right of the picture are the drone cells.

Yesterday while I was at the arboretum plant sale I stopped by the club apiary.  There were two strong hives and one that was down to just the queen and 4-5 attendants trying to stay warm on the cover of the hive.  They likely would not have made it another day.  We put together a nuc for her with bees form the stronger hive and caged her with the attendants.  Hopefully this will give her a second chance.  It looks like they ran out of food and couldn't build up enough to recover. She will stay caged for a few days for safe keeping while they get used to her scent.

The new bees are curious and licking the queen cage (a good sign).  

Tomorrow we are back to the rainy weather pattern.  Hopefully in 16 days from now we will get a sunny week with 60F+ weather for the new queens mating flight.

- Jeff

Sunday, April 22, 2012

4 April Weekends Without Rain

Four nice weekends in a row is something that doesn't usually happen until July in Seattle, but the unthinkable has just happened.  If next weekend turns out nice as well, it'll be the first time on record that we have had rain free weekends in the month of April.  Nice weekends also make it easy to get in regular hive checks!   The nice days in the weather pattern also means there is a lot of stuff blooming right now with the maples being the primary source of food.  When there is enough of something blooming that the hive can create a surplus it is considered a "flow".  Maples produce both pollen and nectar, and about every 3-4 years the weather around here allows for the bees to create a surplus of maple honey.

Collecting water from the "bird" bath.

With the maple flow going strong, the hives have also started making lots of drones.  Drones are the male honey bee that are produced from an unfertilized egg and they don't do "work" in the hive.  The main function is to mate and eat surplus food the workers bring in... yeah not much of a plus.  However mating is a big thing in the bee world for spreading genetics around and a queen will mate with 15-20+ drones.  She will mate within a week of emergence by going on 1-3 flights and never again for the rest of her life.  The more drones the queen can mate with the more desirable she will be to the hive and the better genetic diversity it will have.

Drones are bulky and have big eyes to help them find queens.  They also don't have stingers.

In addition to the maples there are several other flowers coming out right now that add variety to the food sources available.  There are also still some cherries blooming and the apple tree buds are just about to open.



Silver dollar plants (taller purple), Blue bells (light blue), Grape hyacinths (blue) and a few dandelions.

Hive checks (4/21/2012)

The Librarians have expand the brood nest by 3-4 frames and have multiple frames of drones coming.  At this point they have brood on almost every frame in the hive except the first and last frames which have bee bread.  I'm not seeing much surplus nectar or pollen being stored like I am in the other hives and this is a slight concern.  I am however seeing signs of improvement towards varroa and DWV and far fewer capped drone cells had varroa in them on this inspection.  They appear to be on the road to getting the issue under control and they were treated with powdered sugar again to help in that process.  The brood pattern is still not to be desired and I did see more practice queen cups.  I also took more cell measurements and found some frames in the 5.05mm to 5.1mm range.  For a hive full of bees they still aren't working very hard to build comb and the frame I put in two weeks ago is only half done.

The Engineers are moving right along and I am seeing a lot of orientation flights going on as more bees prepare to become foragers and leave the hive to collect food.  They also cleaned up the last of the old dead-out frames from the Frat hive and the frames and hive look as good as new.  The queen has a solid laying pattern and has eggs everywhere she can get them.  They have some drones coming as well and are storing surplus nectar and pollen.

The Geeks are starting to really take off and they seem to be ready to start drawing comb.  Much like the Engineer hive the frames have a solid brood pattern and they have a few drones on the way as well.  I added spacers to the front of the brood nest to try and get them to draw the frames out.

Nuc C is doing well, they got a sight boost of foragers from the Engineer hive that work harder in the cooler/rainy weather.  When I moved the Engineer hive last week some foragers bumped over a few inches to Nuc C instead of re-orienting to the bigger hive.  The frames are full of eggs and they also have a surplus of pollen/nectar.  This is a hive I have slated to move to a sunnier/warmer location after the maple flow that should help it take off.

- Jeff  

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Tax Day Bees

Actually I'm a few days late on the weekend report because I was busy on far less interesting things like doing my taxes.  While I was busy doing taxes the bees were taking advantage of the nice weather and getting into everything.

Pollen is balled up on her legs to take back to the hive and in the process she gets it all over herself.  The surplus pollen particles she doesn't ball up get transferred to the next flower for pollination.

The maples are also coming into bloom this week and are a feast of pollen and nectar for the bees... if the weather allows for them to fly.  Being on the side of a hill there is a lot of staggering between the rates that the trees are blooming at so there isn't a huge burst of something all at once and then it's gone.  This helps the bees take advantage of more of the forage and gives them a better variety of sources.  We still have a few wild cherries that haven't opened yet.

Maple bloom

Hive report (4/14/2012)

The Geeks are doing really well.  They had double the brood form the last inspection and had cleaned up all the old dead-out frames I gave during the last inspection and filled them with eggs.  The pollen stores were also significantly increased.

Nuc B is getting renamed to the Engineers and was moved into the old Frat hive.  As a general practice I don't name nucs until they have survived the winter (Nuc C will get a new name soon with a different naming system because she is from a different queen line).  Nuc B is very much like the Geek queen and had filled 6 frames with brood and I found her laying in the last bit of space by the follower board.  Since she had maxed out the nuc she was moved into a full hive body so they have room to expand.  I plan to use the Engineers or Geeks to create more nucs this year.  

Example brood comb from the Engineers is below (comb is reversed upside down for inspection which means the top of the picture is the bottom of the comb).  
  • The very top 5-6 rows has nectar and some pollen/bee bread.
  • Below the nectar you can see large drone cells that stick out from the comb.
  • In the middle of the comb you can see darker soon to emerge brood (17-20 days).
  • The lower portion has more recently capped brood cells (8-10 days). 
  • At the very bottom of the comb you can see the white larvae (C shapes) in soon to be capped cells (5-9 days).

Example brood comb in different stages.

Nuc C is still building up nicely, but they aren't taking off like the other hives.  They have 4-5 full frames of brood in different stages.  The queen does have room to lay but is not doing so.  This hive seems really fussy about flying in "Seattle" weather and they really only get active when the sun is out around 55F +/- 2F which we really haven't had much of lately.  I did see increased pollen stores in this hive as well.

Librarians still have a spotty laying pattern and signs of high varroa levels.  They have twice the level of brood of the other hives, and apparently the queen has no limits on the brood nest size and had laid about 20 frames of the hive.  She even went beyond the empty comb at the back of the brood nest I placed on previous weeks inspection by several frames. I also saw a practice queen cup, which I suspect is a result of her being so far away on one side of the brood nest.  I pulled several drone cells and found varroa in them and did a powdered sugar application to see if it helps keep the problem under control.  My plan to split this hive soon in hopes of breaking the brood cycle and knocking back the varroa.

Less than week old comb being built.

I also measured the brood comb and was surprised on how little regression there has been in the natural comb cell size with an average of 5.3mm.  Small cell comb is considered to be 4.9mm and standard foundation is around 5.4mm.  I will be taking more measurements in each hive this spring and trying to encourage them to regress more.

Comb measurement (measured 10 cells for average).

So far this week the weather has been rainy/misting and the bees have been staying in.  Hopes for a weekend inspection are slim, although we might get a sunbreak. 

- Jeff

Sunday, April 8, 2012

4 Strong Hives - First Full Hive Check of the Season

Wow, we had some nice weather for once.  Did a full inspection of all 4 hives yesterday while the sun was out and happy to report they all are making good progress.  The girls were also happy to be out collecting pollen and nectar.  The cherries and dandelions are blooming and the Maples should start in the next week.

Drinking nectar from a Siberian Squill flower.  These have white pollen, but some have blue pollen that the bees really like.

About a block from the house there is a P-Patch and there are several plots where gardeners have let cover crops grow over winter and flower.  Winter crops are not only good for the soil but can offer some food for the pollinators as well.  I've heard of bee-lining (finding a bee hive by watching their flight patch), but I've never heard of finding a hive by smell, but was clearly able to pick up the sweet bee-hive scent between the house and the park in several places when I crossed the bee-line.  It is amazing to think that all those bee trips back and forth can actually leave a scent in the air along the flight path.

One plot with a patch of collard flowers was buzzing with honey and bumble bees.  She is drinking nectar and collecting pollen (you can see the pollen basket on her back legs).

Hive reports:

The librarians had a total of 11 frames of brood, which is quite a lot for this time of year!  Out of those 3 looked to be mostly drone brood, and there were also some young drones in the hive.  That much drone brood can only mean they are building up for spring and to swarm.  I have several weeks before I will need to take action to prevent swarming.  I gave them some more space around the brood nest so she wouldn't get cramped and to encourage them to start building comb.

Some issues were found that will need to be addressed: spotty brood comb, deformed wing virus (DWV) and visible varroa on bees.  Varroa can spread DWV and can be the result of spotty brood since these bees have hygienic traits that help them remove infected cells.  Not sure what method to use yet to address the issues.  I will need to do another inspection to find out how bad the mites are and determine what can be done.

The Librarian's queen running around.

When she slows down for a second the bees will quickly circle her to clean her and attend to whatever she needs.

Nuc B is a sister hive to the Librarians and they had 4 combs of brood in a nice tight cell pattern.  No other issues seen here.  They have taken a about two cups of syrup since I put the jars on.  I could tell the syrup jars are not getting very warm in the day.  

The queen is darker than her sister on the right side of the comb.  You can see larvae (white c shapes) in the cells near the light brown capped cells of older brood.

Nuc C is on par with Nuc B with 4 frames of brood.  These girls don't have as much flight activity right now and don't fly in the colder rainy weather as much.  Syrup intake was about 2-3 cups.  Their temperament is also a bit more pissy than the other hives.

Just above the queens tail you can see a few day old attendant bee following the queen around.  Young bees are a little smaller and have more hair on their head. 

The Geeks had 4 frames of brood as well.  This queen is the mother of the Librarian and Nuc B hives and has a nice tight laying pattern.  They also had the most pollen reserves out of all the hives which puts them in good shape to take off in growth.  The Geeks are in a full hive and I was able to give them three frames of empty comb from the old Frat hive for the queen to start laying in.

You can only see her tail here, and she has her head in a cell checking to see if it's clean.  If it is she will turn around an lay an egg in it.

This week they expect warmer temps than what we have been having so they should be able to make a lot of progress.  Good weather for maples can make huge differences in how the year will go.

- Jeff

Monday, April 2, 2012

62F = Happy Bees

After a rainy weekend, week, month, season... the bees were eager to get to work today.  I could tell it was going to be a nice day when I left for work and the bees were already up and getting an early start on the day at a chilly 42F.  That's 5 degrees colder than they will usually fly, but with no wind and the sun out they apparently decided to live dangerously.  They are actually pretty good weather predictors even on patchy rainy/sunny days and you can tell what the weather is going to do in the next hour or two by watching them.  Too bad this "nice day" will be short lived and we will be back to rain tomorrow.   Oh, did I say March was the 3rd wettest month on record and we were several degrees below our average temperature.

Here's a shot form the weekend.  It's not much to look at but it's raining and they are flying.  Apparently rain drops don't photograph well on the camera phone.

The bees are all over the cherry trees and anything else they could find today.  Dandelions are also blooming in abundance right now as well.  The key is finding a lot of something, honey bees will only work one source at a time.  So while that plant with the pretty blue flowers is attractive to them, if it's the only one then they ignore it, or one bee will work it over and be done with it.

Here's a picture of a girl on a poppy flower yesterday during a sun break.

I also checked the syrup levels yesterday and it didn't appear that they have taken much, if any.  However with our highs at about 50F and lows around 38/39F the syrup may simply not be getting warm enough for them to consume it yet.  After the busy day the bee's will be back in the hive tonight, but don't actually sleep and could work on the syrup taking advantage it still being warm from the higher daytime temps.

There are a few still working on their mining operation in the flower pot.  After doing some checking around  I think it's most likely that they are collecting fungus spores instead of mineral salts.  While not common most of the year, they have been known to do this in some cases.  The fungus spores can have as much protein as a high quality pollen source and because it's usually concentrated it's supposedly easier for them to collect.

Whatever the reason the girls seem happy to be digging away.

If the weather stays on track with what they are saying, this weekend might be my first opportunity to do an inspection.  I'm not sure what to expect, since everything is behind about a month, but I expect I'll see at least a few frames of brood.

- Jeff