Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Black Pollen Arrives and the March of the Drones

Usually we would be in a dearth right now waiting for the blackberries to start, but mother nature seems to have other things in mind this year and the flowers just keep on coming.  Our sun to rain ratio is really working out well for allowing the plants to make nectar.  Too much sun and the nectar dries up, too much rain and it gets washed away - Goldie Locks would say this weather has been "just right".  This means that the bees have been able to collect a surplus in resources and they have been storing and drying nectar into honey.  Bees by nature are hoarders and will store as much as possible for winter.  Here's hoping that blackberries and the rest of summer keep up the trend and we get a good harvest this year.

Poppies have been blooming for a few weeks now and the pollen is prized by the bees for the high protein content.  Also many herbs are starting to bloom as well giving the bees a medicine cabinet of variety in food sources to work with.  A well balanced diet is just as important for the bees as it is for us.  This is why the giant mono crops are so stressful on them, and that stress increases their vulnerability to disease.

This girl seems to have gotten herself covered in black pollen.

Ice blue Iris seem to be a hit with this one.

Chives at the pea patch.

Another change going on in the hives right now is that the drones are mature and flying.  They head out in the late morning and come back in the early afternoon.  Drones are much larger than the worker bees and with that size comes a bit more "buzz" sound from them.  When the drones are coming back home you can hear the buzz from the hives about 25 feet away.

Here's a short video of the entrance activity when the drones are coming home.

Hive checks (5/24/2012)

Lots of stored nectar/pollen.  Not a lot of brood on the way, but tons of bees in the hive.  Found another frame with freshly laid eggs in swarm cells.  There was one newly created comb of honey in the back that collapsed and two other combs that were crossed together that had to be corrected.  I'm finding with this hive that when I add new bars between existing bars that they build bridges on the ends to cross between the combs while the comb is being built out in the middle.  It is only an issue if there is a surplus of nectar/pollen coming in that they make these bridges large enough to attached  to the new bars.

They should talk to the Engineers about building stronger combs before overfilling them with honey.

Lots of brood and they are storing nectar/pollen and building comb.  So far everything looks good here.

They have been storing nectar/pollen.  Not building comb, but have a good number of bees throughout the hive but not much brood.  No signs of supersedure or swarming.

Nuc 2
Took a quick look and one of the queen cells was opened but the others were still closed.

Nucs 3,4 or 5.
No checks, however Nuc 4 got a frame with eggs and cells from the Geeks.

Hive checks (5/25/2012)

Linda's Host Site

Tucked away in a sunny spot.

This hive is in good shape and they are building comb.  There is a little stored nectar/pollen but mostly it's just frames of solid brood.

Doing what she does best, laying eggs everywhere!

Saw the new queen and she hasn't quite kicked into egg laying yet, but her abdomen is swelling up.  As a result of the brood break this hive is almost all honey/pollen.  They are building new comb which is the only place the queen could lay in if she was ready.  Swapped a frame of nectar/pollen with a frame of fresh eggs from Sand.

She still has a bit of fuzz left and her mothers looks.

Next week I should have some updates on the Nucs and will talk about mating flights.  Hopefully we will have a patch of good mating weather this week.

Blackberry flower down the street - A preview of things to come!

- Jeff

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

4 Frames of Queen Cells

Wow what a busy week it has been.  It is swarm season and lot of beekeepers have been getting calls the last few weeks.  The chestnuts are still blooming and the hives are showing signs that they were able to take advantage of the nicer weather and store surplus maple/chestnut honey.  We will see if they cap it or eat it before blackberries.  Lots of flowers are blooming now, but no significant nectar sources beyond the chestnuts and I'm watching their stores closely.  There is usually a slight dearth between now and the start of blackberries in this area and those big booming hives can quickly exhaust their honey stores and perish.

Thimbleberry just started blooming and provides nectar and pollen.

Blackberries are a few weeks off, and the flower spikes are starting to form.   

Russian Sage - this is a great drought tolerant plant that blooms most of the summer, and like most essential herbs the bees love them.

Wisteria are starting to bloom as well.

Also this week both Nuc C (with new queen) and Nuc 1 were moved into full hives at Linda's host site in West Queen Anne.  Moving the hives went well with only a few minor issues - like forgetting to pull the syrup bottles out of the hives before taping them up and making a slightly sticky mess in the bottom of the nuc.  The other change I would make next time would be to get an earlier start so they are installed by dusk as everything seems to take more time to load and unload than you plan for.  As for the transfer of comb from the nucs to the big hives the bees were surprisingly calm and non-aggressive and for the most part stayed on the comb like they would for a normal inspection.

It might be a bit early to give Nuc C a name since they have a new queen, but now that they are in big hives at their new location they are getting one so they will be easier to reference.  Since this Italian queen line likes nicer weather I'm opting for a "beach" theme for the names in her line.  Nuc 1 which has the mother queen will be Sand and Nuc C will be Surf.

New hives built and ready to move to new apiary.

Hive checks (5/16/2012)

Surf (Nuc C)
Did a quick check on the frames and saw the new queen running around and she looked to be in good shape.  Didn't do a thorough check beyond that due to the stress of the move.

Sand (Nuc 1)
No check other than the frame transfer into the big hive and found the queen by the sound change when I picked up the frame she was on.  You don't always hear it, especially if they are already pissy, but sometimes when you get to the frame the queen is on they will make a slight roaring sound as you lift the frame.  When I heard this all it took was a quick glance and there she was.  This is a strong queen and they are building comb with lots of new brood on the way.

Nuc 2
Did a quick check and found 4 frames with 1 or more uncapped queen cells on them.  One frame from the Engineers with 4 cells all next to each other, and three frames that came form the Geeks that had just 1 cell per frame.  Two of those queen cells on the Geek frames came from eggs laid in queen cups (I saw the eggs when I transferred the frames).

Marked the frames with cells for transferring into Nucs (3, 4, 5) on next inspection.  I wanted an even split of Geek and Engineers cells, but I didn't want to risk causing damage to any of the cells on the Engineer frame by trying to cut them out.  I like to have at least 4 cells buffer when I'm cutting cells out of combs. So I'll have three nucs from the Geeks and one form the Engineers when all is said and done.

Capped queen cell with drones and nurse bee.

Hive checks (5/18/2012)

Sand & Surf
Took a quick peak behind the follower board and last frames to make sure they were adapting to the new hives and location and all looked good.

Hive check (5/21/2012)

Nuc 2
Due to very crappy weather over the weekend I could not check the hives or even split up the queen cells form Nuc 2.  However I lucked out with an hour of rain and wind free weather on Monday evening and I took three of the frames with queens cells from Nuc 2 and made up Nucs 3, 4 and 5.  I pulled three frames from the Librarians, Geeks, and Engineers and added one to each of the new nucs to help supplement the populations and will add more brood after queens are mated.  Timing would put the cells around 10-12 days old with emergence around day 16.  I will be surprised if they have not emerged by this Friday.  I'm worried about not getting an inspection in on the Geek hive this weekend as they may be planning to swarm soon.

- Jeff

Sunday, May 13, 2012

60,000 Mother Day Kisses

Well it's that time of year again and we can't forget to appreciate how hard the mothers of the hives work, laying somewhere around a million eggs in their lifetime!  She may get to rest for 15 minutes here and there but otherwise doesn't sleep and scours the hive day and night looking for places to lay eggs.  Followed by nurse bees attending to whatever need she may have, there is never a moment alone until the day when some younger version makes an appearance and kills her...  oh the cruelty of mother nature.  Happy queen bee day from your thousands of children!

Geek Queen

We are getting a wave of sunshine at the moment that is very un-Seattle-like, but very bee-friendly!  The hives are getting really packed with bees and the hive entrances are a constant traffic jam of activity.  The drones are flying as well looking for virgin queens, and only the unsuccessful ones return home (or to some random hive since any strong hive will welcome them).  The air has that sweet bee smell that results from all the activity.  They create this amazing sweet flowery scent that is made up of an unknown number of different flowers blended together.

Coral Bells

Lilac Blooms

Hive checks (5/12/2012)

Librarians - Not much drone or worker brood overall for a full hive of bees for the second week in a row and the Geeks have surpassed them in numbers now.  Signs of varroa and DWV have cleared up for the most part.  Saw a handful of drones with DWV, but otherwise they were in good shape and have the issue under control.  The queen is laying eggs/brood in small patches but very spread out over the frames.  I'm surprised there haven't been any attempts to supersede her yet.  They aren't building much comb but are taking syrup now which may be due to the lack of new worker bees and increased drones.  

Engineers - This hive is building up nicely and they have a surplus of stores saved.  They have taken a little syrup but for the most part are opting for natural sources.  They are building combs quickly.  Took two frames of brood for Nuc 2.

Geeks - This hive is boiling over and saw something I've never noticed before.  There was a small cluster of several hundred bees in the back of the hive behind the follower board.   I'm wondering if they are practicing for swarming or if they just want more room to build comb, however they were not building comb there.  The queen wasn't in the cluster and it was just bees.  It seems that they want to build 60% f a new comb and then start a new one rather than finish out the combs completely, so I gave them several empty bars before the follower board.  There are a lot of practice queen cups, but all are still empty.  I debated moving the queen to Nuc 2, but opted to keep her and move more frames. I would like her to keep laying and building up this hive for the blackberry flow.  If she starts laying in swarm cells I will have to move her to a nuc.  Took 4 frames of brood for Nuc 2. 

Nuc C - Skipped.  They have been taking a little syrup.  The new queen should be emerged by now and going on mating flights in the next few days.

Nuc 1 - The queen from Nuc C has been reorganizing this hive and is filling the frames up with eggs.  It's off to a good start.  They also have a good amount of pollen and nectar stored.

Nuc 2 - This is a temp nuc with frames form the Engineers and Geeks.  Will break up next week into smaller nucs with the queen cells that are formed.

- Jeff

Monday, May 7, 2012

Punk Bees & Grass Wastelands

At some point every little girl grows up and they head out into the world to find themselves and hopefully don't get into too much trouble in the process.  Then there are a few that need to stand out and make a statement.  These are the ones that come home with pollen mohawks!

Showing off to her sisters

There are always a few girls that come back with mohawks when the Horse Chestnuts are in bloom.   Horse Chestnuts have multiple color flowers with some having yellow pollen and other having a brick red pollen.  When the bees climb up into the flower the pollen falls onto them creating this effect.

Horse Chestnut blooms

Lots of flowers right now.  Here is some gray-green pollen probably from crab apples.

Something I've noticed when talking with people that are trying to create bee friendly habitat is that most people have no idea how bad half the stuff they dump on their lawns really is for bees.  That perfect golf course grass is really a bee wasteland and there isn't anything useful for them there.  The insecticides and fungicides that you get from the store can be just as bad and often worse than the big tracker sprayers that farmers use.  So if you want bee friendly garden/yard just remember if it kills insects it can kill bees (weed killer isn't great either).

A little bit of bee paradise.  Clover, dandelions and lawn daisies

Hive checks (5/6/2012)


The varroa issue seems to be under control, but still seeing the random bee (mostly drones now) with DWV.    There are also a lot of healthy drones in the hive and I'm not seeing varroa on the uncapped drone cells like I was before.  There is very little capped worker brood in the hive and only a few frames with larvae/eggs for a hive this size.  However as a side effect the lack of brood is probably helping with the varroa issue.  There are a lot of bees in the hive, but their rate of growth seems to have leveled off.  This might be a sign the queen is cutting back to swarm, or continued signs that the queen was poorly mated and is running out of steam and needs to be replaced.   The plan it to pull cells from the Geeks or Engineers to make several new queens in the next two weeks to revitalize this hive.


This hive is taking off and they built 3 new combs in the last week.  I measured the newly built brood comb in this hive and the Geek hive and I'm getting measurements between 4.6mm and 4.8mm which puts them in the small cell range I've been looking for.  Once a enough new comb is built I'll move the old comb to the back of the hive for honey stores and cycle it out for harvest at the end of the season.  

I often have people asking what the insides of the hives look like.  Here's a shot of newly built comb (the edges are not complete yet and you can see the other combs in the opening of the hive that it came out of.  The hardest part of a natural comb hive is getting the bees to build on the bars.  They could create ANY design they wanted if not persuaded to stay on the bars.

Top Bar Hive (TBH) frame of natural comb

The little white specs at the bottom of the cells are 2-3 day old eggs.  Freshly laid eggs will be even harder to see as they stand upright.  The new comb makes it easier to see eggs as it allows the light to pass through the wax walls.  Once the cells have been used a few times the wax gets darker brown from the larvae cocoon casings and light doesn't pass through as easily.

Eggs in cells


This hive and the Engineers are staying on par with each other.  It's hard to not just type ditto, but that really is the case with these two.  I supposed if you had all identical hives it would make beekeeping a lot easier, but rarely does that ever happen.  Like any animal they all seem to vary quite a bit, but at the moment these mother/daughter hives are both performing well.

They are filling the new comb as fast as they can build it with a wide variety of pollen.

Nuc C

Lots of stored pollen and nectar in this hive and good activity.  They have three swarm cells capped which I will leave alone and let the best queen emerge, clean house and mate.  We are on day 8 or 9 and she will emerge in the next 7 days.  Fortunately it looks like we will be having nice weather for her arrival!

The queen cell is covered in bees to protect and keep it warm.

Nuc 1

The queen from Nuc C is doing well and reestablishing the brood nest and is laying eggs.  This hive should be able to build up pretty quickly and take advantage of the Blackberry flow.

Next 2 weeks I'll make nucs from the Geeks or Engineers and hopefully at that time Nuc C and Nuc 1 will be ready to move into big hives at the new apiary.

- Jeff