Monday, November 19, 2012

Winter Storms Arrive

In typical Northwest style we've been getting storm system after storm system with an occasional calm day thrown in if we are lucky.  We also haven't had a hard freeze yet and the bees still seem active even though they are "mostly" inside the hives on the crappy days.  Whenever things calm down between storms the bees pretty much pour out of the hives and busy themselves doing something.  Mostly it seems they are collecting water, propolis or bringing in pollen.  There are a few scattered pollen sources out there, but nothing the girls are likely dancing about.

Calendula bloom from spring to late fall providing nectar for the girls.

Collards bloom fall to late winter and are often covered by bees.

Since we haven't had a hard freeze yet the yellow jackets are still around harassing the hives.  It seems that they are a bit more desperate to get a to the honey stores and are taking more risks to challenge the guard bees.  I'm getting a really high success rate with my traps using a light sugar syrup bait.  The bees aren't interested in the weak syrup but it sure does a good job of attracting the yellow jackets and I caught 30-40 in each of my traps in just a few days and I'm seeing a noticeable decline in how many I see snooping around. I have also seen a few dead yellow jackets in the leaves around the garden so I think the weather systems are starting to get the best of them.

Speaking of pests, I have also been monitoring for the Apocephalus borealis fly.  Ever since it was reported that they found signs of "zombie bees" in the area I've been capturing any bees I find under lights at night.  So far of my two sample sets I'm happy to report that they were both negative for infection by the fly.  Unfortunately it takes a few weeks for samples to show signs of infection so it does take a bit of patience to go through the testing process.  Based on the latest data reports it appears that the fly has been positively identified 30 miles to the south of here and about 20 miles north of Seattle.

Viburnum tinus is an evergreen shrub that will bloom in this area all winter.  It's tiny blooms provide food for the bees on those occasional nice days we get.

The Hollyhawks are on their last blooms of the year.

Hive checks (11/3/2012)

They had about a quarter gallon of unfinished syrup left that I pulled out.  Tightened up the follower board and didn't inspect.  I did see a bee with DWV crawling around and there were a few dead bees back behind the follower which can sometimes be a warning sign.

This hive looked great.  Didn't do an inspection but their syrup was completely gone.  I gave them the rest of the syrup from the Sand hive to finish.  There is a wall of bees just behind the follower which is another good sign and partly why I didn't inspect further.  One odd thing I noticed with this hive was a lot of dampness in the back behind the follower.  There are no roof leaks and the hive/comb area where the bees are looked dry so I'm guessing they are venting excess moisture/heat into the dead space and it's condensing on the sides.  I usually push the top bars together so they are snug and nothing can get in, but left the bars in the back area a little looser to improve the ventilation into the attic area to see if that helps.

Winter blooming Rosemary is just starting to flower.

Hive checks (11/4/2012)

They seem to be stable again and the older Geek queen has several frames of brood on the way.  No signs of disease issues or DWV and they look like they are in good shape for winter.  They took about half the leftover syrup I gave them and I left the rest for them to finish.

These girls look awesome.  They have built back up and have cleaned up the rest of the hive with no signs of diseases.  I saw them storing pollen and the brood nest stretches across 8 frames with all stages of brood on the way.  I gave them a little dry sugar in back but they really didn't need anything.  Took a frame of bees and brood for the Librarian daughter hive.  I like to put dry sugar in sooner than later with our warmer weather.  In top bars there isn't an easy way to put the sugar directly over the cluster so I give them sugar to eat on our warmer winter days so they save their honey for those stormy weeks when they cluster tight and have a shorter reach into the hive.  At least that's what I think they should do, but the reality is they don't always follow my instructions.

This was one of their smaller patches of brood.  The bees are looking fatter than the summer bees I'm used to seeing.

They finished the leftover syrup and they have good numbers.  Didn't do an inspection.  Pulled the syrup bottle and tightened up the follower board.  Added some dry sugar in back.

Librarian Daughter Nuc
They look healthy and have a good patch of brood but are having a hard time getting over that growth hurdle so they can build up for winter.  Gave them a frame of brood and bees from the Rebel hive that should put their number closer to what they need to survive.  I introduced the frame by power sugaring the bees on the donated frame and the frames directly facing the new comb.  I usually would spray them with sugar syrup, but I don't want to chill them on these colder days or add any extra moisture to the hive and dry sugar is a good alternative.   The frame should have been mostly nurse bees so hopefully they don't loose any back to the Rebel hive.

Icon Daughter Nuc
Good activity and numbers.  Didn't inspect.

Glutton Nuc
They had as much activity as the bigger hives today and have good numbers.  They didn't take much of the leftover syrup and I added some dry sugar.  I find a little dry sugar under the syrup bottles helps to catch the moisture and entices them to take a bit more syrup.

Hive checks (11/11/2012)

Sadly this hive didn't survive last weeks cold spell.  The DWV and Parasitic Mite Syndrome (PMS) had taken it's toll and there just weren't enough bees to form a big enough cluster.

I've been reading up on bee diseases on what to call the condition I've seen take out several hives this summer and fall that is more accurate than DWV (Deformed Wing Virus) and believe the correct term is to use is Parasitic Mite Syndrome (PMS).  DWV is just one of many diseases the mites spread around the hive that can lead a hive collapse or CCD like symptoms.  The mites capability to spread diseases around the hive is not surprising but the speed that it can lead to a hive collapse is surprising with hives often failing within weeks.  The other surprising observation I've seen this summer is that the hives that failed were from over wintered nucs and even swarms.  Even the Engineer Queens Nuc failed which was essentially a swarm with empty comb created mid summer, and the Icon hive that was a early summer swarm.

Hopefully I'll have stronger genetics left next spring to raise new queens from and the 9 hives I have going into winter come through.  However I know that one of the nucs is weaker than they should be so we can only cross fingers for an easy winter for them.  I'm also curios how the Geek hive does and if they carry their viral resistance forward into next year.

Here's a shot of a Ginkgo tree last week before the storm blew the leaves off.

Hive checks (11/18/2012)

Plum Creek
Not really a hive check, but the girls finally got a real roof.  A few poked there head out to see what I was doing up there.  The roof is water tight and is lined with foam.  I see a lot of spiders around the outsides of these roofs but never inside them, which tells me that it stays dry enough to keep bugs out.  I like to believe that the spiders are helping the bees keep the wax moths under control too.

The new roof should keep them warm and dry.

Back to the bees.

- Jeff


  1. I admire your persistence and attention to detail--and imagine the bees do too.

    1. Thanks. It's a difficult time for the bees with all the relatively new challenges they are having to face with pesticides and mites spreading diseases. I don't know how many hives will survive the winter, but I do see it promising that I'm going into winter with more hives than I started with in spring.