Sunday, March 31, 2013

Spring Buildup and Thoughts on Splitting Hives

The usual iffy winter months of February and March turned out to be mild for the girls this year with no major storms passing through.  The hives have been building up and look like they will be in good shape by the end of April.  In talking with many beekeepers is seems that this was another hard year for the bees and many beekeepers are seeing very high losses.  

From dawn to dusk, they are always working.

There has been is a good selection of flowers available and I have been seeing a lot of pollen coming in.  The cherries and dandelions are out in force right now providing the bulk of resources. We also have been getting short waves of nice weather (as opposed to 24/7 rain) which really gives the hives an opportunity to collect good pollen and fresh nectar.

Cherry blossoms.

Flowering Red Currant

Corylopsis (Winter Hazel)

Hive Splitting as a Management Option for Overwintered Hives

Spring has arrived in soggy northwest fashion bringing with it a variety of blooming flowers and the girls have been busily working them to bring in food to build up their numbers.  Overwintered hives might struggle a bit at first but once they hit that sweet spot they will explode in numbers and can quickly make plans to swarm.  This is the time of year that you will want to maximize the hives buildup to produce the largest workforce possible while suppressing the swarming instinct.  Each hive is a little different in how fast it will build up and it is necessary to make inspections every 7-10 days to check for swarm cells.  However if you are a bit of a lazy beekeeper and/or don't have enough time there is another option to consider as a swarm preventative which is to make a split.

There are many ways to split a hive and the simplest is to equally divide all the resources between the two hives making sure both new hives have eggs and young larvae.  The side that doesn't get the queen will create emergency queen cells from young larvae.  You can also take several frames and the queen from the hive to make a nuc letting the stronger hive make the queen cells.  Timing is important and ideally you want to make a split when the hive is strong enough and there are plenty of drones available.  Some hives will be ready to split in late April and others early June so you have to watch the weather, but you usually should start a split before the first major flow.

After starting a split you need to check back in about a week to make sure that queen cells in the queenless half look good and are close to being capped.  You should see multiple cells which will indicate that everything is going well and a new queen will be emerging in the next week.  At this point you will want to leave the hive alone for 2-3 weeks to allow the new queen to emerge and go on mating flights and eventually start laying.  After the queen starts laying the hive will take another three weeks for these eggs develop into workers and you can confirm the new queen has a good laying pattern.  Pausing for a moment consider the math here and you can see why this is an effective way to prevent swarming as it will take about two months before the hive is adding new bees and building back up again.

There are also a few other advantages to making splits.  You build on the genetics of your overwintered hive and will raise a new locally mated queen.  The queenless hive goes through a brood break which can help with mites and brood diseases.  You now have a nuc backup in case something happens to one of your queens or as a resource you can sell to another beekeeper.  Also the brood break allows the workforce of your queenless hive to focus resources on nectar and pollen collection and can potentially boost your harvest if timed correctly with the flow.  There are also many things that can go wrong when making a hive queenless so be sure to consult with an experienced beekeeper or mentor before starting.  Good luck.

Evergreen Clematis

The Big Leaf Maple is a fast growing northwest native found primarily between the Cascades and the coastline.  They will outgrow the native evergreen trees but at the cost of having brittle branches and a shorter life span.  Often home to a variety of wildlife and mosses they provide summer shade and an inescapable downpour of leaves in fall.  While there are many varieties of maples in the area the Big Leaf Maple is the largest and often grows into large twisted masterpiece of the landscape.  The blooms of these giant trees can create a minor flow if we are lucky enough to get several days of sunshine in a row.  If you find yourself under one of these trees on a sunny spring day be sure to listen for the hum of the bees.

Big Leaf Maple Blooms

Forsythia blooms. I've been seeing the bumble bee queens in these as well.

Daphne odora 


Vinca minor

Aubrieta deltoidea

Daphne laureola in bloom. This may look nice in the garden but it is a noxious weed and unlike many of the others that the bees love, the sap, leaves and berries of this one are toxic for us and pets.

Hives checks (3/30/2013)

Saw the queen and several frames of brood.  The hive is growing and they look like they will be in a good place by the end of April.

Icon Daughter
Saw the queen and several frames of brood.  This hive is building up quickly and saw several patches of drone brood on the way and some newly emerged drones.  I wouldn't be surprised if these girls try to swarm before the end of April.

Solid brood pattern getting capped.  You can see a few drones here as well.

To my surprise I saw a small patch of brood and the queen running around.  I'm not sure how they are still alive with maybe a few hundred bees, but they are.  The lack of storms this month is probably the only reason they are still around.  I've got my fingers crossed for them.

This hive is building up faster than I thought.  They are covering about half the frames in the hive at this point.  They had 2 full frames of drone brood on the way and many drones already running around.  I suspect they will want to swarm before the end of April which is on par with what I've seen before from this queen line.  I guess they didn't get the memo that most other hives died or aren't that far along yet and they need to wait for them to make drones.

Several frames of drones coming in this hive which is a sign they might try for an early swarm.

Here is a shot of the queen herself.

Back to the bees,

- Jeff

Monday, March 18, 2013

First Hive Checks of the Year

Spring is definitely around the corner and there are lots of plants coming into bloom making pollen and nectar for the bees.  So far this year our weather has been cold but consistent staying just above freezing at night and sometimes getting above 50F during the day.  Fortunately we haven't had any storms blow in and sit above us for a week or so which is good for their build up.  

Crocus flowers offer up pollen.


Miniature daffodils

Daffodils provide pollen.

Dandelions are usually a signal for hives to build up and they offer pollen and nectar.

Preparing to fly on these cold mornings (less than 45F).

As part of an update to the site I'm building a plant list with descriptions so you will occasionally see something with a little more detail in the regular blogs as part of this effort and here's the latest.

The Oregon Grape (Mahonia) is an attractive evergreen shrub with holly like leaves is a native to the northwest.   Different species of Mahonia can be found throughout North and Central America and in Asia, which are also planted around the city and may be hard to distinguish from our native varieties.  The Oregon grape has clusters of long lasting yellow blooms in early spring that are very attractive to honey bees and other pollinators (especially bumble bees - if you are lucky you will likely see the queens flying).  They do well in full sun to part shade and make good accent plants for gardens or even as hedges.  They get their common name form the clumps of small "editable" bluish berries that form late summer.

Cornelian cherry blooms bring these trees to life with color before the leaves come out.

I previously talked about hazelnuts and their catkins (male part) but it was still too early to see the flowers.  Here's a shot of both the open catkins and the tiny purple flowers above them (you can click on the picture for a larger view).  

Once pollinated the flowers will produce the nuts on this Corylus avellana.

Indian Plum is another early blooming native bush.

Flowering Red Currant buds.

White cherry flowers.

Pink plum flowers

Late winter blooming Hebe

It seems that Parasitic Mite Syndrome has taken on a new name and is being referred to as “Idiopathic Brood Disease Syndrome” (IBDS), which kills off bee larvae, and has been found as the largest risk factor for predicting the death of a bee colony.  I'm quite sure this is what spread through the hives last summer and took out several of them into the fall.  Sadly I hope not to run into this one again this year, but if nothing else at least it has a better acronym than PMS.

Cluster too small to keep themselves and the queen alive.  The heavy mold is an indication they died months ago in fall.  You can still see eggs in cells that had no bees to keep them warm.

Hive checks (3/3/2012)

Checked both the Sand and Surf hives.  The Surf hive appears to be doing good and there are a lot of bees eating the dry sugar, but the Sand hive didn't make it.  It looks like the Sand hive died late fall.

Hive checks (3/9/2012)

It was another nice day and was able to get a little deeper into the hives to see how they were doing.

They had very little food around the cluster and moved several frames just before and after to give them some insurance in case the weather turns bad for a few days.  Saw signs of brood.  The cluster was across 3-4 frames.  Found signs of a secondary cluster in the front that looks like it starved.  I'm guessing they formed two clusters and the front cluster was too small to survive.

Icon Daughter Nuc
Similar to the Geeks but they actually seem like there were a little better off.  Moved frames of honey closer to the cluster.  They also had nice frames of capped brood.

Brood in early March.

I'm not as optimistic about these girls.  I didn't see any signs of build up and the cluster seems to be be only across 2 frames.  They were a little pissy as well and suspect they might be queenless.

This hive by far looks the best of them all.  They didn't need any food moved closer and were still sitting on top of a lot of honey around the brood nest.  The cluster size was also very healthy and they had strong activity at the entrance.  This hive is in a warmer spot and gets 30-40% more sun over the other hives.

Entrance activity in early March.

Back to the bees.

- Jeff