Saturday, July 28, 2012

Busy As a Beekeeper

When the bees are busy so are the beekeepers and these last two weeks have been keeping me on my toes. Last week I was busy putting together the queen castles for the swarm cells to raise new queens.  The queens should have emerged 5-6 days ago from their cells and taken their mating flights in this rare Seattle sunshine.  The Blackberries are done, but there are plenty of garden plants providing enough to keep the girls busy.  I also ran across a block of giant Linden trees about a half mile away that are just a few days past their bloom prime.  Lavender is going strong and cone flowers are also in bloom.

Snow like pollen from Lavatera × clementii (Tree Mallow).

Last weekend was also the PSBA picnic and a few of us stayed around for the apiary inspection.  I was able to tackle several of the hives I didn't get to on the previous inspection and update the notes.  I will say while I like Top Bar Hives, it's so much easier to be a "lazy beekeeper" with Langstroth hives because the bees can't mess them up as much as they can in a top bar if you aren't keeping an eye on the combs they build.

PSBA Apiary

Echinacea is in full bloom now.

Swarm (7/24/2012)

I got another swarm call from a beekeeper in Ballard that had his hive swarm for the third time this year.  This was a good sized swarm and I really don't know how a hive can pull off three swarms from a spring package and still be full of bees, but sure enough the hive still had plenty of bees working away.  He was telling me how just a few days before he found a queen outside the hive and put her back in...  I'm guessing this queen was kicked out by a stronger queen and it triggered another swarm when she left the second time (because obviously her sister was going to kick her butt again).  The girls seem pretty calm, but I didn't see a queen and will look for her this weekend.   She likely is a virgin queen which will make her harder to spot.

Swarm in maple tree.

Hive Check (7/22/2012)

Saw the queen and a fair amount of brood.  They have honey stored, just not sure how much yet.  Seeing signs of varroa and DWV.  Three frames donated to the Queen Castles.  Will powder sugar them next weekend.

Northgate Swarm
Not much has changed in the last week as far as comb building but am seeing the first capped worker cells.  The pattern is spotty which seems to be in line with the random egg here and there I was seeing last week.  Apparently the girls aren't all that impressed either and I found two supersedure cells (one capped) on a back frame.

Several frames of this bad laying pattern is a sign of a weak queen.

Thankfully the girls agree with me and they have plans to replace the queen.

Nuc with Engineer queen
They are back in build up mode.  Gave them syrup.

Nuc 3
Not building up as fast as Nuc 2.  They aren't taking much syrup either.  They were moved to the queen castle to make room for the swarm.  The extra sun the queen castles get might do them good.

Nuc 2
Building up quickly.  No inspection.  Added syrup.

No inspection.  Added syrup.

The hive is looking really good at the moment.  The laying pattern is still so-so but better than I've ever seen it in the past and the hive is full of healthy looking bees.  Donated a frame to the Queen Castles.

Queen Castles
They all got syrup and 4 of the 6 got an extra frame of bees.

There are four (bee proof) sections in the hive for each of the new queens.

Hive check (7/26/2012)

The girls were bearding and had drawn out several new combs and filled them with capped honey.  Unfortunately one of them was badly cross combed and had to be harvested and the others were partially fixed.  However that got them worked up so I had to postpone the full inspection.  My gut is telling me this hive will try to swarm soon.  I'll check them again early next week.

Saw the queen and good patches of brood on several frames with a good laying pattern.  It seems that they have been digging into their stores and will need some feed soon.  My only concern with feeding is they are next to the mother hive that is overflowing with bees right now and I don't want to start robbing.  I might try to steal honey comb if I can get the workers off but and thinking of trying moist sugar.

New queens laying pattern.

Now back to to bees.

- Jeff

Friday, July 20, 2012

Swarm Plans Foiled By Pesky Beekeeper

The blackberry flow has come to an end and I was thinking that I could start spacing out the inspections further but apparently the girls disagree.  The Engineer hive has started swarm preparations and I found 7 capped swarm cells and 2 uncapped.  It was just 4 weeks ago that I looked in this hive and the combs were empty and they were on the edge of starvation and now they have almost every frame filled with honey, pollen or brood!  There is plenty of room left to build new comb and there was still some room left in the brood nest for the queen to lay, but the surge in resources produced an equally strong urge for them to swarm.  The hive hums with the heavy buzz of them fanning their wings to dry the honey.

The one in the center had just come out of a cell. Reminds me of an Ewok.

Several people have reported picking up swarms in the last week so the time does seem right for later season swarms.  There are still some minor flows left this summer, but for the most part big hives are now at a disadvantage.  With the huge workforce a swarms presents an opportunity to take a large chunk of the workforce away to start a new hive and leave the old hive with an abundance of resources to rebuild for winter with a young queen.  This is also a great time to break them up into smaller hives and raise queens.  This gives them time to rebuild and raise winter bees and many people report better success rates overwintering smaller hives in the Northwest.

The girls quickly make drops of sugar water & honey disappear.

As the blackberries fade away there are new plants coming into bloom as well as a few blackberry patches in colder spots around the hill.  Lavendar is still going strong and thistles and cone flowers are starting to bloom. There are also several Catalpa trees that are in full bloom.

Thistle blooms

Catalpa trees in bloom.  From a distance they might look like Chestnut tree in bloom.

Hive check (7/14/2012)

Lots of honey and drying nectar.  The queen seems to be slowing down.  This queens has always been a good predictor of what's coming.  No indication that they want to swarm yet.

Queen still laying a solid pattern.

Hive check (7/15/2012)

Northgate Swarm
These girls have been busy building comb.  They had two donated combs (one broken that they reattached) and they have drawn out 8 new combs and have already filled them with nectar.  There are open cells for the queen to lay in, but otherwise will need more room soon.  There is one more empty bar in the nuc for them to draw out.  Saw the queen and she looked good and was laying eggs.  I saw a few cells with eggs but no larvae yet.

The swarm queen.

These girls are working away and slowly building up.  Several more new combs added since the last check and they have a lot of brood coming and good surplus of stores.

The Icon queen.

The icon queen has a great laying pattern and back-filling as fast as they emerge.

Nuc 2
These girls are at the point where they are about to take off.

Her majesty followed by nurse bees.

Nuc 3
They are a little behind Nuc 2 in size but they are building up nicely.

Hive check (7/16/2012)

Found capped swarm cells and pulled the queen and 5 frames and put her in a nuc.  The swarm cells haven't been capped long and I just checked them 11 days ago and I made a point to remove all the empty cups at that time as well so they would have to make new ones.  Marked the frames with queen cells or bee bread for easier splitting up later.  They have a lot of nectar and are drying frames of honey in the back of the hive.  Some cross comb in the back that needed fixing, but I typically see happen during flows.

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

Hive check (7/20/2012)

Split up the queen cells into separate queen castles.  One of the uncapped cells turned out to actually be empty (they may have removed the larvae as well, but it wasn't opened by a queen).  Fortunately there was only one frame with two cells on it and the rest just had one cell to a frame which made the separation easy.  I left the frame with 2 cells in the hive and the 6 others went into the queen castles.  I noticed that the honey stores are 60% capped now.

The girls decided they wanted a tunnel in the middle of the comb and made one.

After a busy week the weekend is already here again.  I'm crossing my fingers that the rest of the girls have been good and I don't need to make any more swarm preparations during this weekends inspections.  I only have two spots left in the queen castles.  Yes I could cut the cells down to 2-3 of the best ones, but swarm cells from big hives make for the best queens having been feed by a strong hive and raised in swarm cells the way they have been doing it for millions of years.  I'm not sure what my odds will be on the emergence and mating of the 7 new queens, but I'm going to cross my fingers for at least 80-90% percent successful queens.  

- Jeff

Monday, July 9, 2012

Observations From The Apiary Work Party

On Saturday it was my turn to lead the work party for the club apiary.  The club has work parties every two weeks to help keep things maintained and the To-Do list is coordinated by our apiary manager.  I have to say it's a bit of an experience walking into an apiary of 18 or so hives and not really knowing much about them.  There wasn't time to dig through all the boxes and I had to pick and choose which ones needed attention the most and might provide the best learning experiences for volunteers that showed up to help.  I think only a couple of the hives overwintered (but I had no idea which ones) and the rest are from spring packages or swarms.  Obviously this added to the challenge of trying to determine which hives were weak and which were simply new swarms.

The most common issue I saw was that most hives had way too much unused space.  They were either only using the center 3-4 frames of several boxes or they barely filled a third of a deep yet had a super or two on top.  Grand hopes of a nectar flow that just hasn't happened in the city this year, and we left with feed on all the hives.  The other issues I saw were; hives that looked weak due to a poor laying pattern, comb built on the inner cover of an empty box, queen-less with emergency cells, and a dead-out.  Then there were two really strong hives that would be great to raise new queens from.  In reflection I am left wondering if perhaps I'm a bit too critical of the Librarian hive that has a poor laying pattern.  That hive would be better than all the hives I looked at except the two I think they should breed from.

Collecting nectar from lavender flowers.

Blackberries have a few blooms left, and the berries are on the way.

Hive check (7/5/2012)

Checked the hive and found a healthy looking queen.  She has had two weeks to go out and mate and should be ready to start laying eggs any day now.  She actually looks a lot like her mother and is similar in size.

The new queen of the Surf hive.

This hive is exploding and I wouldn't be surprised if they match the Engineer and Geek hives by end of the month.  The hive is mostly brood of all stages and they are eagerly building comb.  Seems the sunshine is bringing out the motivation of this Italian-mutt queen.

Looking for clean cells to lay eggs in.

She is laying an egg here.  Her abdomen is in a cell while an attendant bee feeds her.

In typical Seattle style the sky has been clear and the weather has been above 70 since the 4th and the extended forecast shows more of the same coming.  So my typical Seattle response will be... Great, now I'll have to water all my rain spoiled plants so they don't die.  Have a great week.

- Jeff

Friday, July 6, 2012

Summer Has Arrived

I hope everyone (in the USA) had a good Independence Day!

July 5th has arrived which means summer has 
officially started in Seattle and looking at the extended weather forecast I'd say they are right.  The girls have been busy sunrise to sunset collecting and drying nectar.  The blackberry bloom is mostly complete but there are a few cooler pockets on the hillside that are still in their prime.  I've seen the girls working pretty much anything they can find and this is where it pays off to be in a garden loving neighborhood with lots of flowers.  Lavenders and a few shrubs in the area are also blooming, but not many trees.

One of the girls working clover.

The Japanese Snowdrop trees are buzzing with bees right now.

Got another swarm call today (7/5/2012) for a swarm in the Northgate area.  They were about 6-7 feet off the ground and wrapped around several branches which made them more difficult to get into the hive.  However there was just enough flex in the tree that I was able to shake 50% of them into the hive box and then transferred the smaller clusters, that remained on the branches, by hand into the hive.  Apparently they didn't get the memo that they are easier to collect if they hang on a single exterior branch... or just fly into the empty hive box sitting in the yard.

I'd estimate the cluster was around 3-4 pounds of bees and I didn't see the queen but am pretty sure she was in there somewhere because they all started fanning right away.  The bee sizes vary quite a bit so it seems likely that these girls came from a natural cell size hive.

This is the bottom of the cluster.

Closer shot so you can see they go up the branch away from the camera.

After 40 minutes most of them are inside.

I added a mostly empty drawn comb from the Librarians to give the queen something to start laying in right away.

Hive checks (7/1/2012)

Took a quick peak and the queen is laying away and the hive is looking good to build up nicely.  They are still building comb and they have a good reserve of pollen built up.  Not taking much syrup anymore.

Nuc 2
Queen looks good and is filling out the frames with brood.  They have a good amount of pollen stored as well.  Not taking much syrup anymore.

Frame full of brood.  Hopefully she keeps this the rest of the summer.

Queen looks healthy.  She will get a bit longer as she starts to lay more.

Nuc 3
Queen looks good and has the start of a good laying pattern.  This queen is a couple weeks behind the queen in Nuc 2.   They are not taking much syrup anymore either.

Tight laying pattern in worker cells.

Another healthy looking queen.  Oddly all the new queens are blond.

Nuc 5
Checked and found drone cells and a queen cell in the middle drone cells.  There is a laying worker and they are making bad decisions if they are trying to turn a drone egg into a queen.  I dumped them out in front of other hives and re-purposed the combs/bee bread for the nucs to give them more resources.  So far 2 good queens out of 5 cell starts this year - not horrible based on our weather.

Nuc 6 - Swarm (6/27/2012)
No signs of a queen and they have started building a new comb but not what I would expect from a swarm.  I suspect they are queenless and they really don't have enough bees to raise a new queen even if I gave them eggs.  Will give them another week to show signs there might be a queen laying in there or I will combine with the other nucs.

Hive checks (7/4/2012)

Didn't see the queen again, but saw everything else.  Things are looking up in the food reserve department and they appear to be through the dearth.  They have good stores on all the frames and there are many frames of larvae and eggs throughout the hive.  The bees also seem to have returned to their usual calmness that I expect from this hive.

One unusual thing I found during this inspection was a white eyed drone.  It's a bit like finding a four leaf clover in the bee world and not something you would see outside of the hive since they are blind and can't really fly.  Bee's have 2 large compound eyes and 3 small simple eyes (triangularly placed just below the 2 large compound eyes).  In the second photo you can see all 5 eyes are white.  Drones develop from unfertilized eggs so they only have one set of chromosomes.  This means that any recessive genes the queens carry will get expressed such as in this white eyed drone.

The workers will care for this drone until it's mature and then it will try to leave the hive and be lost.

Saw the queen.  Stores look good and they look like they might be building comb again.

Saw the queen.  There's a small brood nest, but seems like too many drones being raised still.  The hive is much smaller than the Geek and Engineer hives.  Lots of pollen and bee bread and honey stores left over from last year.  They are also storing new nectar.

Tomorrow it's off to check the hives at Linda's and then this weekend I'm running the bee check at the club apiary which should give me a good comparison for how well other hives in the area are doing.

- Jeff