The Blackberries that we beekeepers make such a fuss about getting ready for are about half done on Queen Anne and I'm really not seeing the girls working the blooms. The hives are definitely busy and they are bringing in nectar but it would seem to be coming from another source. Being that this is a residential area there are plenty of plants in bloom right now that might be getting their attention instead. Garden plants also have the benefit of regular watering or automated sprinklers that allow them to produce nectar even when it hasn't rained much in the last week or so. As far as I can tell no one has been watering the Blackberries around here.
In case anyone following the blog doesn't read the local newsletter here's my latest article.
Learning From the Bees
It is often said in beekeeping that if you ask a group of beekeepers the same question you will get multiple and sometimes conflicting answers. Beekeeping books are great for generalizing what you should expect to see going on in the hive but do a poor job of pointing out that hives can have distinctive qualities from each other and how to adjust when a hive does something strange. In a commercial setting individual hive traits are generalized and if a few hives swarm or a small percentage die it's a small price to pay for the gains in management efficiency. However when you only have a couple hives in your backyard you do not want to loose any or have swarms going into the neighbors eves, so being able to understand and respond to what an individual hive is doing becomes an essential skill to master (actually this is a lifelong effort).
One way to become more familiar with the characteristics of your hive is by taking notes. Notes can be brief or detailed but should answer the basic questions about what is going on in the hive. Recording hive observations is one of the secrets of good beekeepers everywhere so don't let a little propolis discourage you from taking a few quick notes after an inspection. Over time your notes can help you identify patterns that you might not have noticed at the time or weren't obvious until several weeks later. What the bees are doing today will prepare them for what is coming several weeks ahead and ultimately to meet their reproduction and winter survival needs. Having good notes goes hand in hand with regular inspections every 7-10 days which are especially important if you are a new beekeeper. Not only does this give you hands on time with the bees but it will help catch any unexpected swarm attempts before they occur!
Finally before starting a hive inspection you should think about what you want to learn before opening the hive. To do this you should review your previous notes and take into consideration the weather patterns and floral sources in bloom. Some general questions you should always be looking answer are what problems exist that need to be addressed, is the queen performing well with brood in all stages, and how do their stores look for the time of year. For example this time of year we are entering the busy June nectar flow and you should see a surplus of nectar coming in. Your primary concerns are to make sure that they don't back-fill the brood nest with stores so that the queen has nowhere to lay eggs and to watch for swarm attempts. This is also a more difficult time of year to do an inspection because the hives will be nearing their maximum population and likely overflowing with bees.
Like any endeavor you wish to master it can take several seasons to become familiar with what's going on in your hives. With good notes and some simple goals outlined for inspections you will become quicker at checking hives and better at predicting the needs of your colonies. While you may never know for sure what a hive is going to do ahead of time you can learn to identify the opportunities that exist that will help or hider the colony and make efforts to maximize their potential.
Hive checks (6/7/2013)
Icon Granddaughter Hive
Found the original queen which explains why they tore down the queen cells I gave them. Eggs are mostly only in large drone sized cells and just a handful of capped worker sized cells.
Everything looks to be in good shape and they have plenty of supplies. Could use more bees as it looks like they lost a lot of foragers back to the main hive, but she's a good queen and can make up the losses in no time.
Found the original queen and she has finally started laying and explains why the cells I gave them looked torn down. Eggs and larvae aren't old enough to determine how well she mated yet.
Hive checks (6/9/2013)
Saw the queen and the brood pattern is looking tight and she is filling out more of the frames now. They finally have a surplus of pollen and bee bread. While their numbers are still low they are just getting to that explosive growth point where they will really take off.
The queen is laying full frames now and everything is looking good for them to build up and possibly take advantage of the nectar flow.
Setup the queen castle and moved frames with cells into each of the four slots with a couple frames of resources each. Left the frame with the original cell I found in the hive. Most frames had multiple cells so I should get good emergence as long as enough bees stick around to keep them warm.
Icon Daughter Nuc
The plan was to check on the cell they were making. I accidentally damaged it as they ended up attaching it to the wall (that's the first). The queen had several solid frames of brood going and I found fresh eggs, but she does seem to be slowing down when she could be building up. I'm guessing they will try again as there was just this one cell and no other new ones started.
Rosemary Bush Swarm
Picked up the swarm on 6/13 that was maybe 2 pounds of bees. I'm guessing it was a secondary swarm based on it's small size. Unlike some swarms that require a ladder these girls were on a branch about 3 inches from the ground at the center of a Rosemary bush. Luckily the branch was cracked and leaning into the sidewalk and the homeowner was happy to have it pruned back which made them fairly easy to get into the hive otherwise it would have been a lot of hand scooping to get them. Gave them some syrup and old comb to work on and will look for a queen in a week.
Geek Queen Nuc
The queen is doing her thing and filling frames with eggs again and she doesn't seem setback by the loss of a workforce.
Icon Granddaughter Hive
Checked and saw the queen but besides a few larvae in worker cells almost everything is laid in drone cells. I'm guessing she didn't mate well and will replace her soon with one of the Geek daughters or maybe I will put the mother in here.
Icon daughter Nuc
Several nicely laid frames however there is a single queen cell back which shows they are determined to supersede her. My plan is to let them do their thing although I'm also considering moving her to the granddaughter hive to take over for awhile while the new queen mates since I would really like to keep her line going. Of all the hives this is the only hive I've noticed some deformed wings in this year.
Hive checks (6/15/2013)
The good news is it looks like there is some worker brood, but the bad news is that it's mixed with drone brood. I'll give her another week week to see if she improves otherwise this hive will get one of the new Geek queens.
I almost had an amazing story to tell about a swarm pickup at a construction site but atlas they broke cluster just as I was headed up the tree to get them. I stood in amazement watching them move around me and away in a swirl and the construction guys, well... ran for their life screaming.
Back to the bees,