Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Getting Ready for the Blackberry Flow

After a long winter and several months of buildup most hives are in good shape and nearing their peak population levels.  That's good news because it is almost time for the blackberry flow to start which is our main nectar flow around the city and will last until about mid July depending on the weather.  Sadly the peak bee season is relativity short for city backyard hives lasting between late spring and mid summer.  Hives that get moved to different floral sources can continue to maintain high population levels till late summer, however the backyard hives will start scaling down to prep for winter shortly after the Blackberry flow.  So far we've had a mild year and everything has been about two weeks early and things could be picking up in the next week or so for blackberries.  However we need to get rain NOW to get the plants into good shape for blooming and then multiple days of sunshine in June so they produce a good nectar flow.  Timing is everything in nature.

Spring blooming Rosemary doing overtime for the bees.  They bloom fall through mid spring.  Look at all the pollen on this girls back!

Camas is another northwest native.

Usually this time of year we are in a dearth about now, but I've noticed that this year the hives have been bringing in a lot of very light colored nectar and starting to fill up comb!  At this rate I'm going to be having trouble making room for them to bring in more for blackberry.  The new queens from splits are being slow to get going so I am not expecting much from those hives, but perhaps as smaller hives they will perform better late summer when there is less out there.

Many beekeepers around here note that when the buttercups start blooming that a dearth period also starts and lasts until Blackberries start.  However with the early season this year there is still a nectar flow coming in from somewhere and the hives have been back filling the brood nest and capping very light honey.

Buttercup flower.

Choisya ternata or Mexican Orange provides pollen.

Double crimson Hawthorn blooms.

Rubus parviflorus or Thimbleberry provides nectar.

Rubus ursinus is the native Pacific Blackberry.

Pacific Dogwood.

Fragaria chiloensis or Coastal Strawberry.

Ceanothus thyrsiflorus ‘Oregon Mist’ is native evergreen shrub to western North America and stands out for the vibrant blue flowers it makes in late spring.  There are about 50 varieties of Ceanothus with colors ranging from blue, white, and pink, but why would you not plant the bees favorite color?  Being a native plant these bushes are also amazing drought tolerant once established.  Over time they can grow into a small tree to about 15 feet high that provide privacy and color or to fill in that out of the way spot in the garden.  Once established these bushes can be a lazy gardeners dream because they do best when not fertilized or watered and put in a sunny location.

They are also loved by bumblebees.

Physocarpus capitatus or Pacific Ninebark provides pollen.

Sorry it's been awhile since my last post and several pictures are a week or two old (I know!).  Life has been busy.  Here are my latest hive notes.

Hive checks (5/5/2013)
Checked on them to see how the queen cells looked and found 12-15 large cells capped.  I also took a quick peak at the mother and her frames now in the Sand hive and didn't see the queen but they looked to be organizing themselves still.  Setup two slots in the queen castle with some frames and queen cells.

Hive checks (5/10/2013)
Talk about determined.  These girls have come back from maybe a 100 bees and now have two fist sized patches of brood going over three frames.  Really not sure what to make of them yet, or if they would do well in a hard winter, but there's something to be said for their ability to survive and recover.  They also seem  fairly resistant to disease.

This stubborn queen keeps going.

Icon Daughter Nuc
The queen is rebuilding and the nuc should be back up to pre-split size by the end of the month.  Based on my estimates the split nuc should have had a queen on mating flights this week (and we had great weather for it). I'll check them next week to see how things went.

For a smaller queen she has been performing well.

The hive continues to grow and there are no signs they want to swarm yet.  I've been adding new frames for them to draw out and some they are drawing out as honey cells and some worker brood cells.  Sadly I was hoping for them to make more worker brood frames, but with natural comb you have to work with what they make.  Added 4 new bars for them to draw out.

Her Majesty in year three surrounded by happy nurse bees.

Lots of drones coming.  This hive is finally caught up to the others that I already split.

This is a great example of the brood nest getting back filled with nectar and pollen.  I'm happy to see so many colors of pollen coming in which means they are getting a lot of variety and have a healthy diet.

New bees in Architect hive.
Picked up a shook swarm (about 2#) on 5/11 and released queen into the old Architect hive on 5/14.  These came from Richards line of queens for winning his 2013 pollen contest in WA.  Yes beekeepers have odd contests.

Hive checks (5/19/2013)
Queen Castle
Of the two slots in the queen castle only one of them had a queen.  The other appears to have lost too many foragers to the other side during orientation and couldn't keep their queen warm enough to emerge.  Combined everyone together into the Plum Creek hive.

Unlike her mother she got a bit darker.  She's decent sized compared to the drones next to her.

You can easily tell which cell the queen came out of here.  Oddly this also makes me think of an evil jack-in-the-box since she's busting out to kill any competition.

Icon Granddaughter Nuc
Saw the queen, but no signs of eggs yet!  Moved them into a larger hive because of all the comb they were making and filling with honey.  I'm really surprised not to see any eggs yet and am wondering if she mated successfully.

She's a big queen and her abdomen hasn't even fully filled with eggs yet.  Not as black as her mother, but still pretty dark.  She reminds me of the Geek queen.

Architect Hive
Checked briefly to look for the queen and signs of eggs.  The queen was there and they were storing plenty of pollen and nectar but no eggs or brood yet.

Another good sized queen that needs to get to work!

Hive checks (5/20/2013)
The brood area is ever slowly increasing with a very solid pattern.  They also seem very calm for the time being.

Icon Daughter Nuc
Lots of bees in here and lots of brood.  Everything looks good so far and they are building up.  Will need to put them in a full hive soon.  They also picked up a few foragers from the Icon Granddaughter nuc when that hive was moved into a full hive.

Had to pull 3 honey bars out of the hive because it's out of room.  Still encouraging them to build new comb and there is a lot of nectar and pollen getting stored.  I'm not exactly sure what the nectar source is but it is very light and tastes sweet, but no noticeable hints as to what it's from (I didn't pass out so I don't think it's rhododendron - perhaps it's from all the yard flowers and iris in bloom).  Also a good amount of brood is coming as well and I'm not really sure where I'm going to find room for more frames in another week.  I gave the 3 honey/nectar frames to the Architect hive to finish drying.  Gave them 3 more new bars to draw out in an attempt to keep them busy building up.  I plan to do a cut-down split on this hive before the end of the month as the blackberries start.  I'll likely make up a small nuc for the queen and another one to raise an extra queen or two off of her.  My odds of getting a good queen are low but I did get the engineer queen which was a good hive so it's not impossible.  I might also try to raise some eggs from other hives as an another option.

You have to click on this photo to see all the pollen colors in detail, it's really something to see a frame almost full of pollen like this and is a sign of a healthy hive.

Back to the bees.

- Jeff

Monday, May 6, 2013

May Sunshine and First Splits of the Year

The weather this year is turning out to be favorable for the bees here in the Northwest.  Several consecutive days of sunny weather means the bees can build up nectar and pollen stores in the hives.  The maples have finished up and I've split two hives this last week to keep them from swarming.  Compared to last year we had rain almost constant right up until early July which washed out the maples and blackberries.  Most hives have honey left from the winter and with the new stores they are bringing in I'm not going to be too worried about the late May dearth that we can sometimes get.

Crab Apple blooms are finishing up (same with apples).

Loropetalum chinense var. rubrum (Chinese red fringe flower) just starting to bloom.

Trillium flowers were harder to find this year and seemed to be late.

Many Rhododendrons are coming into full bloom.

Borage (you can stage plantings for year long blooms)

Centaurea montana (Bachelor's Button Cornflower)

Dicentra formosa (Western Bleeding Heart) have reached their peaks.

Geranium maculatum (Wild Geranium) are starting to bloom.

Daphne are coming into bloom and filling the air with their perfume.

Geranium robertianum (This geranium is also known as Stinky Bob ans grows well in shaded areas).  It's also an invasive weed here in Washington.

Erysimum (Purple Wallflower) starting to bloom.

Erysimum (Yellow Wallflower) - This one has grey pollen.

Hive checks (4/21/2013)
Had a patch of sunshine in the afternoon today to check this hive.  They inherited most of the comb from the Sand hive leaving almost no empty bars in the hive.  They were all over the hive and filling in comb wherever it was missing and storing nectar and pollen.  Lots of drones and queen cups (one with a fresh egg) that I removed.  Even through there are a lot of bees I would like to see more frames of brood before splitting and I'm going to try to hold them off another week.

There is still some leftover sugar in the way back of the hive from winter they are working on.

Entrance activity on this hive busting with bees.

Hive checks (4/28/2013)
Split the hive.  There were several queen cups/cells with a good amount of royal jelly in them.  Since it's pretty much impossible to know if there is an egg floating in all that food I took it as a sign to split the hive.  It also looked like egg production might have been slowing down.  I moved the queen into the empty Sand hive with 5-6 frames of brood and honey.

Look at all the drones she has made to spread her genetics.  Hopefully will get some crossover with the hives on the other side of the hill.

Hive checks (5/1/2013)
Icon Daughter Nuc
The hive is packed full of bees, brood and nectar/pollen.  Another plus is that these girls are so calm to inspect!  There was a cell full of royal jelly and another capped cell.  I moved the queen into a nuc with 5 frames.

Uncapped queen cell.

It's hard to see what's in there but it's full of royal jelly and I'm assuming a tiny larvae since there is a capped cell on the next frame.

There are several nice frames of brood.

Lots of drones in this hive as well.

Checked to see if they were taking the syrup, but did not dig into the brood nest.  This hive is still very small and I'm not noticing much if any syrup being used (they have plenty of honey).  I've been going back and forth on if I want to prop them up at all with resources from another hive and my current thinking is to just leave them alone.

No signs of swarming and they are still building up.  Lots of frames of brood on the way and a good laying pattern.  They should be about the size of the Surf hive in about two weeks.  Added a few bars to the brood nest to get them to draw out new comb.

Here is her majesty in her third year.

She's still laying nice solid frames of brood.

This frame isn't as perfect as the last and but that's due to them back-filling with pollen and nectar faster than the queen can replace with new eggs.  There are even a few bees with pollen mo-hawks in the lower right.

There are a lot of flowers and trees just coming into bloom, so as long as the weather stays on track with what it's been doing we should have a good beekeeping season this year.  It's also time to carry around my swarm catching gear for wild or (lazy beekeeper) hives in the area that are making plans to swarm.

Back to the bees.

- Jeff