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


  1. Great pictures! Thank you. There was just a post on backfilling of the brood nest over at Is it true? Does is look like that hive is ripe for swarming?

    1. Thank you. Back-filling is something you need to be aware of and can happen any time there is nectar or pollen surplus coming into a hive (you can also cause it by overfeeding if you feed). If it happens and you take no action to free up space for the queen to lay eggs then yes they will most likely swarm on you.

      In that hive I have been adding empty bars to force them to build new comb in the brood nest. This keeps the nurse bees busy and gives the queen a place to lay eggs. My goal with this hive is a cut down split so I am planning to pull the queen out near the end of the month (queen goes into a nuc with most of the young brood). This will dedicate nearly 100% of the workforce to collecting nectar during the flow and they will only need a few bees to raise a new queen. The larvae they raise for queens will be swimming in pools of royal jelly under that type of situation and usually make for excellent queens.

      - Jeff

    2. Very interesting. I have more questions now, tons! So by opening up the brood nest, you're pushing the older brood combs towards the back and that's why they're backfilling? Is the reason the new queen larvae will be swimming in RJ because you leave all the capped brood behind and have lots of nurse bees? After you split, the part that gets the open brood and the queen, does it have to be fed? The original colony will bring in lots of nectar while they don't have brood to care for, so do you take some of their excess and give it to the nuc?

    3. Q: So by opening up the brood nest, you're pushing the older brood combs towards the back and that's why they're backfilling?
      A: Backfilling means that they fill the brood comb with pollen/nectar after a bee emerges before a queen can lay eggs again instead of putting it into a storage area. As bees keep emerging more and more brood area is lost to storage and the queen is left with very little space to lay eggs (...the brood nest has been backfilled with nectar and is now stores). Creating empty space in the brood nest is done by replacing full frames of honey/pollen with empty frames and not an indication of existing frames necessarily being moved anywhere.
      Q: Is the reason the new queen larvae will be swimming in RJ because you leave all the capped brood behind and have lots of nurse bees?
      A: Yes, you have an entire hive with an abundance of food and resources to use to produce royal jelly for the new queens.
      Q: After you split, the part that gets the open brood and the queen, does it have to be fed?
      A: Yes. You should give them a frame of honey and a frame of pollen. You could also use syrup.
      Q: The original colony will bring in lots of nectar while they don't have brood to care for, so do you take some of their excess and give it to the nuc?
      A: I would, others may not. Some recent studies show that the impurities in honey from propolis and the acids in pollen walls actually help to keep the bee immune system toned and better able to handle environmental contaminants.