Tuesday, September 25, 2012

First Days of Fall

Fall has officially arrived and before you know it the last traces of this summer like weather will be behind us and we will be back to cool rainy days.  Unfortunately for the girls this dry spell is killing their opportunities to get much of a nectar flow in the city.  There are a few avid gardeners out there that religiously water their flower beds but for the most part the flowers are looking pretty nectar dry.  It seems that new incoming nectar significantly slowed down around the third week in August and the girls have been trying to keep from digging into their honey stores since then. 

I'm seeing plenty of pollen coming in from the asters, dahlias and sunflowers but not much nectar.  Sedum is still blooming in some yards, but in others it finished up a couple weeks ago.  I haven't seen any knotweed blooms in the last week that looked to have any viable flowers left.  Crocus and mums are starting as well but I tend to ignore mums because people tend to buy the showy varieties with lots of petals that aren't useful to the bees.  As a general rule the best pollinator flowers are those with simple petal structures that are easy for the bees to access the nectar or pollen.

Collecting nectar from the Asters.

Here is an older girl on a beautiful late summer flower called Caryopteris x clandonensis 'Dark Knight'.  You can tell she is older by the missing hairs on her back and tattered wings.

Each Sunflower bloom provides lots of tiny flowers for the bees.

Sunflowers and blue skies really do occur in Seattle.

Look closely, this girl was caught in the act of combing polling off herself to add to the pollen baskets.

So many types and colors of Asters blooming.

The Korean Bee Tree is also popular late summer nectar source, but there aren't many around.

I have feed on almost all the hives right now to keep them going and hopefully help them build up stores for fall.  My two main concerns is they have a good population of winter bees and they have plenty of capped honey or syrup.  In addition to feeding I did a little late season balancing to give the weaker hives a little boost to help them raise a bit more brood before it really cools off.  I estimate we have 4-6 weeks of brood weather left and then it'll trickle off to almost nothing.   However this is only true for the younger queens with feed on the hives and I think the second year queens will probably shut down sooner.

Hive Checks (9/18/2012)

Queen Castle 2 - Slot 1
No signs of eggs yet, but the queen is still there.  Checked them to see if they still had sugar left because a few stubborn robbers are still coming to take the sugar slush that is now crystallized on the bottom.

Another full inspection looking for the queen or signs of her.  I can see where she would have emerged 2 weeks ago but otherwise nothing.  I'm guessing that she didn't return from her mating flight.  The girls are a bit pissy as I would expect from a queenless hive.  Pulled the queen from the Geek hive (grandma) and put her in a queen cage and introduced her to this hive.  The girls seemed very receptive to her and started feeding and fanning around her.  She'll stay in the cage for a few days just in case.

A short video of how the girls react to the new queen.  It's hard to tell but they are trying to feed her and her attendants through the cage.  If they were biting at the cage that would not be a good sign. 

Several girls also started fanning near the cage which is another good sign.  You can see the white Nasonov gland exposed near the end of her abdomen.

The Geek hive has dropped down significantly and there is almost no brood and very few larvae left.  Will pull all brood frames and merge the honey stores with a nuc.

Nuc 3
They have pretty much finished off their syrup and gave them a little more.  These girls are pigs with the syrup even though it's a small hive.

Hive Checks (9/22/2012)

Librarian Hive
Removed the Geek queen from her cage and she happily went down into the hive.  This was the original Geek hive and granted all goes well will be again.

The girls are fearless when it comes to protecting the hive.  This yellow jacket had barely touched down and was covered in guards.

Geek Hive
Removed the couple frames with queen cells they started and merged with the Northgate swarm.  Added syrup to help them back-fill gaps.  This hive picked up a lot of frames of honey that aren't capped, but they will also loose foragers due to moving the hive.

Engineer Hive
Moved the Icon daughter queen into the Nuc the Northgate swarm was in so they would pick up a boost from the foragers.

An interesting observation that stands out in this smaller hive is the drones are helping to keep the brood warm and they are more likely to buzz around to distract you when you open the hive.  Drones aren't a complete waste of space.

Engineers Nuc
Moved the Engineer Queen back into her original hive.  Kept the syrup on, but they have stopped taking it.

Queen Castle 2 - Slot 1
Moved the Librarian daughter queen into the Nuc that the Engineer queen was in so they would pick up a boost from the foragers.  This queen has started laying eggs.

Queen Castle 1 - Slot 3
Added a frame of brood from the Nuc 2 hive.  The hive is building up stores and numbers.

Nuc 2
This hive has built up quite a bit.  Took a frame of brood and replaced it with an empty comb.  Will likely take another frame in a week or two to help build up the smaller hives.  They don't need food, but added syrup to push them.

Nice solid brood frames with large honey arches going into fall.

Nuc 3
Added more syrup (I might have to call these girls hoarders or something).  Lots of brood and stores.

Hive Checks (9/23/2012)

There are a lot of healthy looking fat bees in this hive and they are still raising brood. Add syrup to help them with back filling.

Added syrup.

In other news, Washington just had their first confirmed case of the zombie fly in honey bees.  The zombie fly is not new to Washington and until recently was only known to attack bumble bees and some wasp species.  The hive it was found in is actually a relative of the Sand hive.  Here's hoping this is something new to science but not honey bees.

Back to the bees.

- Jeff

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Exotics = Late Summer Food

It is getting harder to find flowers that attract the girls this time of year.  There are a few exotic and native flowers that are going strong right now if you are in the right areas.  The food they find this time of year is mostly used to sustain themselves and any extra is used to back-fill the brood nest.  This back-filled food will be used in early spring to raise the bees that will build the colony up again after a long winter.

Passion fruit vines with their spectacular flowers have been blooming for a few weeks now.  The vines won't get a chance to produce ripe fruit, but they can usually survive our mild winters to produce flowers again year after year.  Dahlias are also blooming in abundance around gardens right now.  Like roses not all varieties of dahlias have pollen/nectar that the bees can get to.  Pollinator friendly plants are typically the heirloom varieties that are smaller with simple flower structures as opposed to the hybrids you often find in the stores that are more showy but nectar or pollen poor.

The girls are liking the Passion fruit flowers.

Fall blooming Heather.

The Asters are still going strong.

Some Dahlia flowers have simple enough petals to be attractive to bees.

The spiders around the house are all looking very well fed this year with the abundance of bees they have been catching.  I even saw a yellow jacket trying to steal a bee mummy from a spiderweb.  However by some unforeseen event she got knocked into the web to become another meal herself for the hungry spider.

Sweet revenge (yeah that's a normal sized yellow jacket).

I am noticing a decent drop in the yellow jackets lurking around the hives since taking out the hive I found in the front yard.  I'm pretty sure there is another one near by, but it is probably in the green belt across the street.  On my way back from checking the Sand & Surf hives I walked by the hive at the P-Patch and saw 50-60 yellow jackets just circling inches away from the entrance waiting for any opportunity to overtake it.  A line of bees was on guard and holding their own for the moment, and hopefully the beekeeper that maintains that hive gets an entrance reducer on it soon to help the girls security force out.

There is a little Knotweed left near the P-Patch.

This is a busy time of year for beekeepers with harvesting and the different fairs and festivals going on.  This last week I was busy with bee education events at the Seattle Tilth Harvest Festival and the Starbucks Pet Fair.  It is great talking to people eager to help the bees by planting pollinator gardens or not using pesticides on their lawns.  As removed as people are from where their food comes from they still understand the importance of bees.  It also helps to have a couple thousand of them behind glass to watch.

Observation hive or bee TV.

Hive Checks (9/15/2012)

Queen Castle 1 - Slot 3
The nuc is building up and the queen is a good layer.

Queen Castle 2 - Slot 1
Added sugar slush to help them out.  They get robbed if I give them anything else and a few persistent girls still come to rob the slush.  The queen hasn't started laying yet.

Engineer Hive
This has a daughter queen from the Icon hive.  She is small, but signs are pointing to a good laying pattern.  Not many bees left so hoping they can build up for winter.  Considering swapping places with the Northgate swarm to boost the foragers.

Nuc 3
This hive has been sucking down the syrup and has put on a lot of weight.  They are getting to the point where the brood nest is starting to get honey/syrup bound.

Engineer Queens Nuc
They appear to have a good amount of brood and the rest is now stores.  They stopped taking syrup about two weeks ago so I gave them an empty frame to see if they will fill it for winter.  This is a second year queen and they went into winter last year a bit too light but survived.  I had to give them frames with sugar to sustain them and am trying to get them to store more this time around.

A girl collecting water from the fountain.

Nuc 2
This hive has built up and they are storing the syrup I gave them.  Hopefully they use it to finish capping frames.

Lots of healthy looking bees but no signs of the queen and I'm not sure if she returned from her mating flight. Will check again in a few days and then decide what to do.

Hive Checks (9/16/2012)

This hive has built up nicely and is in good shape for winter.  Most of the girls are darker bees and they are super docile (at least today) and look very healthy.   Also noticed a fair amount of pollen stored and they really didn't need the syrup I brought for them.  I pulled an empty frame from the Sand hive for them to fill with the syrup anyway.  Better to have extra than not enough.

Nurse bees around their queen.

This hive hit it's peak about 3 weeks ago and are showing signs that they are cutting back on raising brood.  The honey arches on the frames look good and overall there is a lot of honey in the hive, but it's spread out more than I would like to see and I'm not seeing much back filling in the core of the brood nest yet.  I am considering taking them feed next visit for them to back fill with if things look the same.  I also noticed a few capped cells on the old brood frames in the back of the hive that didn't emerge.  I'm guessing that with their size there just wasn't enough food out there for them to keep up the strong pace they were at.

Back to the bees,

- Jeff

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Late Summer Blooms

Here in the Northwest it's that time of year when the summer sun has pretty much dried everything up and there aren't many flowers blooming unless you are at a higher mountain elevation.  Besides Asters and fall blooming Heathers this is an opportunity for some exotics to really take the spotlight.  Knotweed is the most abundant exotic bloomer this time of year, but there are some other great plants that are getting the girls attention that I'll be writing about later this month. 

Heptacodium miconioides is a tough one to find, and is a beautiful small tree of delicate white flowers with a light citrus scent that will be in full bloom until October. 

Future bee vacation spot in the Cascade Mountains?

I also heard at the local club meeting to try grease patties to help with varroa "because it makes the bee's slick".  I know how they work for Tracheal mites, but have never heard this before and checked online and found some research by WVU that seemed to confirm that this does work under some conditions (low brood and strong hives).  I added them to a few hives and if nothing else it's a little bit of sugar to keep them busy.

Yellow jackets have also been lurking around all the hives looking for anything to munch on or a weak hive to attack.  I stumbled across one of the local nests in the front yard while cleaning up a flower bed and got a couple stings before I knew they were there.  Not being a fan of them at that location or wanting to risk letting them take out one of the weak queen castles 15 feet away I removed them with a bucket of soapy water poured into the ground nest.  Soapy water is effective without adding the toxic pesticides to the environment that are bad for pretty much everything (be sure to pick a biodegradable soap if you opt for a home solution).

Geranium blooms.

Black Eyed Susan's still going strong.

Asters are loaded with blooms and bees.

Speckled Toad Lilies are blooming.

On the sad note the Librarian hive has lost their queen.  By the signs of the emergency queen cells everywhere I would guess she slowed down egg laying about 15 days ago and then died suddenly and they made their best attempts to build emergency queen cells with what was left, which there weren't many.  I found 6 frames with emergency cells, but two frames with uncapped cells that didn't look very promising.  I pulled two frames and put them into the queen castle to improve my odds of getting a mated queen.  

Looking back in my notes it was almost a year ago to the day that I looked into this hive to discover the same type of issue except in that case it was caused by their relativity large brood nest getting split into two parts by a honey wall in the middle.  At the time the bees on one side of the wall made emergency cells everywhere while the girls on the other side were just going along fine.  I pulled the queen last year (Geek queen) and put her in a nuc and let them raise the Librarian queen.  So I'll keep my fingers crossed that this hive can pull off another late season queen. 

Hive checks (9/2/2012)

Queen Castle 1
Slot 3
Brooding up and added some feed to empty comb.

Added grease patty.

Engineers Queen Nuc
Added more syrup & a grease patty.

Nuc 3
Added more syrup.

Added grease patty.

Added grease patty.  Found 6 frames with emergency queen cells.. some capped and some almost capped. No sign of queen.  Feels a little like deja-vu in this hive.

Hive checks (9/5/2012)

Nuc 2
The hive seems to be stabilized at it's current size and they have brought in a frame of dark honey.  

Pulled 4 frames to make up two queen castle slots to increase my odds of getting a queen out of their latest adventure.

Hive checks (9/9/2012)

Queen Castle 2
Slot 1
Saw the newly emerged queen when I was adding syrup.

Newly emerged queen.

Slot 3
Looks to have been a bad queen cell.  Combined with Slot 1.

Engineers Hive
Saw the queen and she's a little bigger now and looking more the part.  Will continue to keep my fingers crossed she mated well and starts laying soon.

Icon daughter queen in old Engineer hive looking a little better than last week.

Nuc 3
Added more syrup.

Engineer Nuc
They have slowed down their syrup intake.  

Back to the bees.

- Jeff

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Late Summer Flow

The Knotweed flow has started and I did manage to find a few bushes here and there around the area.  Not enough to create any kind of flow, but something to keep the girls busy.  Fortunately there are a lot of late summer flowers blooming in gardens around the neighborhood.  There are also some bushes and exotic trees blooming and the herbs are just wrapping up.  For the most part there hasn't been much of a surplus in the city this year.  However beekeepers outside the cities have reported that this it has been a great year.  It seems that this year the rain lasted too long at the lower altitudes during the bloom here and broke just in time for the major blooms at higher elevations away from the ocean.

Nectar from Knotweed.

It seems like just yesterday I was waiting for summer to get going and now it's September.  Daylight hours are slowly slipping away and it's getting dark before 8:30PM, but at least the weather is still 70-ish and mostly sunny.  When looking at the bees I'm thinking about if they are ready for spring, and not so much what they are going to do next or worrying about them swarming (although you can always get a crazy hive set on killing themselves with a late season swarm).  Right now I'm feeling pretty good about most of the hives.  I'm concerned about the old Engineer hive with the iffy new queen and I'm concerned about the Geek hive and the varroa issue hurting their winter preparations.  I'm also watching the yellow jackets closely as there are a lot of them around looking for any weakness they can take advantage of in a hive.

The girls are all over the Cornflowers.

Nectar from Gladioli.

Pollen form Burdock.

Nectar from the Mimosa tree.  Too bad there aren't a few more of these around.

I've been a little behind on posting so there are several hive checks below.  I've also done some harvesting the last couple weeks I'll write up in my next post.

Hive Checks (8/19/2012)
Engineer Queens Nuc
The hive is looking to be in good shape for winter.  Will build them up with syrup for the rest of the season.

Engineer Hive
No sign of a queen.  Not sure what happened to her, but she is gone.  They did make at least one queen cell on the donated frame.  Will see how the new queen attempt does.  If she fails I will merge one of the strong nucs or the original queen back into the hive.  Harvested two frames of capped honey.

Northgate Swarm
The last bar in the nuc is now drawn out.  I didn't inspect beyond that because I have no room left to slide combs back and would have to take a frame out of the hive.  With the yellow jackets and dearth I didn't want to do that and start a robbing situation.

Powder sugared again (this was week 4).  I believe I'm seeing improvement.  In retrospect I think I should have pulled the queen as soon as I saw an issue.  Next year I'm going to pull the queens from my best hives during the flow to maximize production and give them a brood break.

Nuc 2
Building up nicely.  Both of the empty frames I gave them last week are full of brood now.  Found a queen cup with royal jelly in it.  I suspect the frames helped, but they my have the swarm impulse going.

Nuc 3
They are getting syrup and are close to where I want them for winter.

I'll try to inspect later.  Too much yellow jacket activity in the area after going through the other hives.  I did check that back frames and they don't seem to be bringing in anything new right now.

Hive Checks (8/20/2012)
For a blond queen she sure is laying a lot of darker girls.  The hive is small, but looking to be in good shape for the winter.  Added syrup to help boost their stores and maybe get them to draw out a few more combs before winter.

The queen with her attendants.

Full hive of bees.  Saw the queen and lots of healthy larvae and eggs on the way.  Plenty of honey, and they are still drying the frames.  There are a couple ugly cross combs in the back I'll enjoy smashing up to harvest.

Hive Checks (8/28/2012)
Queen Castle 1
Slot 3 - Slowly building up and everything is looking good.

Full inspection.  Found a good amount of dried honey and several frames of brood.

Engineer Hive
The new queen has emerged and she's a slightly smaller version of the Icon queen.  Several nurse bees have emerged as well from the donated comb.  I'm not sure if she has mated yet.  She's not very big for a queen and appears to be be feeding herself.  My gut says she will be gone or not laying when I check again, but I'll cross my figure and hope anyway.  The Icon queen is not very "fat" either but longer so there is some hope that smaller is simply her genetics.  If she doesn't work out I'm moving the Northgate swarm into this hive as they could use the extra room.  Also noticed that these girls have mostly sealed their entrance holes with propolis.

Notice her small size next to the worker.  

They sealed down their entrances with propolis.

Nuc 3 and Engineer Queens Nuc
Feeding, but no check.

Nuc 2
Building up nicely and the swarm signs are gone now.  These girls are stubborn comb builders but otherwise everything looks good.

Northgate swarm
The Nuc is packed full of bees and brood and they need a full hive soon.  The girls are runny, but otherwise were not as aggressive as they have been in the past.  Also the laying pattern is very much improved.  Perhaps they did manage to re-queen themselves.

Next week I'll post pictures of the harvest.

- Jeff