Monday, June 17, 2013

Learning From the Bees

I'm not sure how I missed it, but it is the middle of June!  Perhaps it just seems like a long wait for summer to arrive and then suddenly it's here and gone before you know it.  The bees however are great time keepers and they have been taking advantage of the long days and every minute of sunshine they can get.

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.

After a lot of searching here's a girl that's actually getting nectar from Blackberry and not just collecting the pollen.

Tradescantia virginiana (Spiderwort) provide pollen.

If you thought locust trees came only in white check out this smaller purple variety.

Seems like a good year for the bumbles on Queen Anne they are on everything including this California poppy (Eschscholzia californica).

 Lilium columbianum or the Tiger lily provides pollen if you happen to have any growing in the lowlands.  It wont be blooming for a few months higher up in the mountains.

Lupine are still going. 

Campanula persicifolia provide pollen.

The Hebe bushes are in bloom and are usually covered with bees collecting their nectar.

Lychnis coronaria (Lambs ear) are in bloom.

Coreopsis grandiflora.

Nectar from Spiraea japonica is also very popular with the girls.

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.

Magnolia blooms.

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.

She's kind of a brownish queen but so far isn't impressing me with her performance.

Geek Nuc
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.

Plum Creek
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.

An older girl with worn wings is collecting nectar from Euonymus fortunei 'Moonshadow'.

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.

Back from the dead I'm enjoying seeing these girls build up from nothing.  The ability to recover like that is a trait I wan to keep around if I can mix in traits for better over wintering.

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.

This queen is showing a nice laying pattern and I'm happy with how quickly they are building up.

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.

The broodnest size is relatively small overall so perhaps they want a queen that is more productive even though this frame looks good.

Hive checks (6/14/2013)
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.

Just off the ground in the middle of a tangle of branches.

The girls seem to be happy with their new home.  They are hanging onto some empty comb in the photo here which makes it look like they are bigger than they really are.

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.

Another queen cell full of royal jelly.

Hive checks (6/15/2013)
Plum Creek
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 have some Fireweed in a sunny spot so it's a bit early to bloom.  In the lowlands it typically starts to bloom as the Blackberries are winding down, but won't bloom in the mountains for several more weeks.  The nectar from Fireweed makes for a nice light honey for those who take their hives into the mountains.  I have enough that the bees will work it, but not enough to notice the flavor in the honey.

Fireweed blooms.

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,

- Jeff

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Sunshine and Blackberry Blooms

A successful honey harvest relies on mother nature giving us a good weather during the key plant blooms.  A week ago we were getting exactly what we needed - rain.  We had a few weeks of dry weather early in the month and the hives picked up a lot of stores when they usually would be in a dearth.  However dry is not a good way to start the blackberry flow and the recent rain was really needed to get the bushes in good shape to produce nectar rich blooms.  Now we are two days into the start of a nice sunny streak and the blackberries blooms are popping.

With all this talk about Blackberries you might think it's the only thing the girls are interested in when in fact they are not.  There are LOTS of plants coming into bloom that the bees are working to bring in a good variety of flora sources.  Around the the Queen Anne neighborhood there are a lot of Black Locust trees planted (and wild) that are in bloom which can also produce a decent amount of nectar.  Usually the Locust trees bloom just before the Blackberries but this year many plants are coming early so both are in bloom right now.

Thymus serpyllum is always very popular with the girls.

Cistus cobariensis is a good early summer pollen source.  I usually see them passing up older flowers to try and get into a newly opening flower to get the freshest pollen.

Rosa nutkana is a native to the area and also produces colorful rose hips in fall.

California poppy (Eschscholzia californica).

Catmint (Nepeta) is another bee magnet.

Japanese Snowbell tree (Styrax japonicus) is very attractive to bees.

Lupine is a native that is more popular to bumble bees.

Black locust trees are in bloom and can produce a lot of nectar if you have several nearby.

Sage is also very popular right now.


It's not just bees that like nectar, here is a Western Tiger Swallowtail on some pink Centranthus ruber.

Hive checks (5/25/2013)
Plum Creek
No signs of the queen or queen like activity and I suspect they dispatched her.  They got a frame of brood with queen cells from the Icon Daughter Nuc.

Finally the queen has started laying.  Found capped brood and lots of eggs.  The pattern looks good.

This is a pretty good start for having nothing last inspection.

Icon Daughter Nuc
Everything looked to be in good shape, but found two queen cells together on a frame.  I've noticed that when I move hives and foragers go into a nearby hive they sometimes make queen cells.  I took that frame out and gave it to Plum Creek and will wait to see what their next move is.  I hadn't inspected the Granddaughter hive yet otherwise I would have put them in there.

Icon Granddaughter Hive
I didn't see the queen and there are no signs of queen like activity.  I suspect they dispatched her.

Saw the queen and she is still small.  No signs that she has started laying yet, but she seemed more queen-like than a virgin queen.  There wasn't a good frame of eggs I could steal from the Sand hive to give them as a backup.

The new queen is getting some attention and has workers following her around and feeding her.

The queen has been busy at work building the hive back up and everything looked good.  The queen should have more frames laid out in the next week that I can use if needed in the Surf hive.

She was busy inspecting a cell here and some rude beekeeper took a picture.

Hive checks (5/26/2013)
Icon Granddaughter Hive
Placed two capped queen cell in here from the club apiary.  Not sure how viable they will be but the club hive had several cells and I removed two of the weaker ones so there is less chance of them creating an after-swarm.

Quick check through the hive and everything looked good.  With a big hive like this you can tell that the rain from the last few days is taking it's toll and many frames that had nectar back-filled are now freed up again.  Also seeing the rate of new comb production slowing down.

Here's a short video clip of the activity I saw during the cool rainy days last week.  The hives in my yard only get an hour or so of direct sunlight a day so it's something to think about for people that say bees can't flourish without full sun here.

Hive checks (6/2/2013)
Plum Creek
The cells they got last week were opened but I couldn't find a queen or signs of a queen.  It was a nice day and perhaps I caught them while she was out on her mating flight or perhaps the old queen is hiding somewhere?

Icon Granddaughter Nuc
Perhaps the queen in here was also out on a mating flight today.  Both cells were opened but no queen was to be found in the hive.  There wasn't enough of the cells left to determine if they were torn down or if a queen emerged.

Slowly growing.  They are every so slightly bigger every time I look and they actually have some new stores of pollen and nectar now.  I'm thinking the cold nights a week ago didn't do them any favors but they should be picking up with the nice weather.

She stands out as she moves around.

Icon Daughter Nuc
Found a single supersedure cell just starting again.  I had removed it last week and put it in Plum Creek, but this week I left it and the queen.  My plan is to let them cap the cell this time and next week put the queen in another hive if I still can't find queens in either nuc.  If she is failing perhaps she will last long enough to get another few cells going in another hive or help to draw out the young queens. Either that or do nothing and see what they do with her.

There is some reflection in the royal jelly towards the top of the picture but if you look carefully you can see the larvae in a "C" shape floating in the center of the cell.

The hive is growing and they have a good amount of brood on the way.  With the good weather they should build up nicely in the next few weeks.

For a queen that took her time to get going she is laying well.

The hive is full of bees and there are eggs everywhere.  The queen was actually looking a little thin and I found a single uncapped queen cells with a larvae floating in a pool of royal jelly.  I moved the queen to a nuc per the cut-down split I was planning.  I was surprised to only see one queen cell made and am wondering if they are thinking supersedure instead of swarm cells.

Hive checks (6/3/2013)
Saw the queen and she has filled out and is larger than her mother now, but no eggs yet.  Actually I did see a single egg but one egg doesn't cut it.  I added a frame of eggs and young larvae to the hive to see what they do with it.

I've seen several questions this week from people on how many drones are too many.  Well something that occurred to me as I was finishing the inspection and getting to the last two frames at the hive entrance was that they were mostly covered in drones.  For a new beekeeper this is where the mature drones usually hang out and if you were only looking at the frames by the entrance you might think you had too many drones (or if those were the last frames you looked at the impression might be stronger).  Anyway something to consider next time you are looking at a hive.

This must be the "guy" section.

The hive is building up slowly and they had several frames of brood on the way and lots of eggs.  They seem like they are in good shape based on the colder weather we just had a week ago.

Blackberry is here.

Back to the bees,

- Jeff