Monday, July 15, 2013

Prepairing for the Summer Dearth Ahead

Blackberries are over but I'm not sure they helped much this year.  The hives are all in a good place for the summer ahead and almost every hive has had at least one brood break.  If I had a need to build up or make more hives then now would be a good time to start planning.  However I'm happy where I'm at and just want to see the hives I have through the rest of the year and go into winter strong.  Yes it's time to think about winter planning.

So what have the bees been into if not the blackberries... at least in my tiny part of the world?  Well there are many other non-native and native plants in the neighborhood that are getting attention.  Most of the blackberry patches are in dry areas that don't benefit from gardeners watering and can't complete with nectar production.  I rarely saw honey bees on the small blackberry patches but have been seeing them all over these other plants.  Some are just coming into bloom and some are just finishing up, but here's a bit of what's getting their attention right now.

Oregano is just starting to come into bloom.

Lavatera × clementii (Tree Mallow) will bloom the rest of the summer.

Cotoneaster lacteus is very attractive to the bees, however *I* don't think the sweaty sock smell it has is as appealing.

Catalpa trees are in bloom.  They aren't are popular as some of the other plants blooming right now, but they get attention.

Santolina chamaecyparissus is blooming.

Crocosmia 'Lucifer' are in bloom and enjoyed by the bees.

I almost always see the bees collecting water from this bird bath and noticed their numbers dropped briefly during the peak of the flow around the end of June but interest has since returned.  I'm guessing with the surge in nectar it was the one time of year that there wasn't a need to bring water into the hive.

Moss acts like a water sponge and makes a safe spot for bees to land.

Yucca is not a native plant, but is common in gardens and is in bloom now.

Privet is filling the air with its strong perfume.  There are quite a few of these around the neighborhood grown as small trees or hedges and they are all buzzing with bees.  

Butterfly Bush (Buddleja davidii) is just starting to bloom as well.

Scotch thistle (Onopordum acanthium) is also in bloom.

American Chestnut (not to be confused with horse chestnut) provides pollen and nectar and has been blooming a couple weeks now.  There are several large and very old trees nearby and they make for a dark nutty honey.

Hive checks (7/3/2013)
Ballard Swarm
Did a quick check for the queen and the girls have mostly filled the donated combs with nectar, built two new ones and have taken half the syrup I gave them.  I didn't see a queen so I released the caged queen and they accepted her without any aggressiveness.  I didn't hear any piping so perhaps this swarm was queenless after all.

This is the caged backup queen.

They seem to like her.  She would be unmated at this point.

Icon Granddaughter hive.
Took a quick peak and couldn't find the queen or eggs and the youngest uncapped larvae looked about 6-7 days old.  I found two capped emergency cells and two attempts at cells.  I pulled all four of them out because I really don't think this hive is strong enough to be making queen cells and put in the queen from the queen castle.  I added her with her bees and comb and didn't see the need to cage her in this situation.  She hasn't started laying yet and we are just past two weeks from emergence now.

Hive checks (7/6/2013)
Plum Creek
The laying pattern is just so-so and could be better.  So far I'm not overly impressed with the early mated queens and while I think the hives built up at the right time there just aren't enough other hives far enough along in the area making drones for them to mate with at that time of year.  I guess I need to seed the area with early hives for next year.

Not perfect but not horrible either.

At least the nurse bees seem to be paying attention to her.

Architect Hive
The hive is building up well and starting to see the first signs that the brood nest is back-filling.  Added some empty bars to encourage them to draw new combs.

Looks like backfilling with the nectar flow.

Geek Hive
Saw the queen and her gold bands have darkened more.  She has a great laying pattern and saw several frames of brood.  Moved some empty worker comb forward for her to use.  The hive is mostly backfilled filled with nectar, pollen and honey from being queenless.  I'm wondering how her sister will do since she hasn't started laying yet and was raised in a smaller hive.

Nice solid pattern over several frames in this hive.

She looks a lot like her mother.

Rosemary Swarm
Fantastic laying pattern on this queen.  She is a little bigger and more filled out than the last time I saw her.  They have spread themselves thin and have filled most of the frames with solid brood and comb building has slowed down.  Gave them more syrup.

I really couldn't have hoped for a better mated queen.

Here's another frame (they all looked like this).  They have a honey arch and perhaps a few cells of pollen and then brood.  Lots of brood!

There are already a few new nurse bee's following her around.

This was the one frame that wasn't completely full of brood.  This was a donated comb where both sides are larger drone/honey comb sized cells and only the middle has worker sized cells.  I take this as a good sign that the hive knows what it needs and that's workers.

Ballard Swarm
They have made several new bars of comb and saw the queen, but no signs of laying yet.  They are storing syrup in comb yet I added more syrup to keep them building.

She looks mated.  Will have to wait and see how well.

Hive checks (7/13/2013)
Rosemary Swarm
Added more syrup, but no inspection.

Ballard Swarm
They are still building comb and filling it with syrup and nectar so I'm continuing to feed to keep comb construction going.  It looks like their rate is slowing but hopefully I'll get a few more good combs out of them before they switch to raising young.  Found newly laid eggs in cells so everything is looking to be moving in the right direction.

She has filled out nicely in the last week and looks more queen like.

Geek-Icon Daughter Hive
There was a small patch of brood from the original brood nest before I combined the hives.  It looks like she was off to a good start and just needed more bees which she has now.  The new queen has moved into the bigger brood nest left by the old queen and was filling in gaps.  I moved the brood nests together so they could concentrate resources.

Original brood nest.

She is just a tad lighter than her mom.

Geek Nuc
They are building up in the nuc and will soon run out of room.  Removed an older comb that they weren't using in the front that I suspect might be too toxic/diseased for them to prefer to use.

Three years and still going.

Now I remember why I called these girls the Rebels.  They now have enough hive strength to be a little pissy again.  Not as bad as they could be but enough to be slightly annoying.  I actually was a little surprised to see the queen cutting back on brood on this inspection.  The main flow is over and a dearth is on the way so it makes since they would cut back but they have been playing catch up all season and it seems like they would want to keep going in build up mode.  I guess it's a good thing they are cutting back.  There are some drones close to emerging as well but not many and it doesn't look like they plan to make many more.

I saw the queen put her head into a cell for what I thought would be an inspection for egg laying potential but she stayed in there and it appeared that she might actually be drinking nectar by how her body was moving.  I've never seen a queen feed herself, but that would be the best way to describe what I think she was doing.  Another strange observation I noticed is that on average most of the bees in this hive are tiny.  I usually see workers of all sizes running around with natural comb but with this hive almost all of them are on the small size, however their comb cell sizes look to be in line with the rest.  I will have to take measurements next inspection to get a better idea of what might be going on here.  These bees definitely are different from the other hives.

I know I said she was cutting back and this looks pretty solid.  There just weren't as many full frames of brood this time.

Icon Daughter Nuc
I'll have to rename this hive I guess as there were no signs of the old (mother) queen anymore. The daughter is now being followed by nurse bees and I don't know what to make of the laying pattern as it's a patchwork of a failing queen and a young queen filling in.  Will wait and see what happens.  There are still signs of varroa and DWV in this hive.

She's a nice big queen.

Back to the bees,

- Jeff

Monday, July 1, 2013

Supersedure Queens and Swarms

It feels like summer is in full swing here in Seattle and it's not even July 5th yet!  The hives are doing well and I'm seeing some honey accumulation, but never as much as you might expect from nice weather.  The sunshine is good for flowers and makes for nice forage weather but as the ground dries out quickly and so does the nectar.  This year I really haven't seen a whole lot of interest in neighborhood blackberry patches except for a few times after it had just rained.   Rather it seems that the girls are turning to the shrubs that get watered in people's yards around the neighborhood as the better nectar source.

This girl is collecting Lavender nectar and she also has a bit of pollen on her legs.  Usually you don't see them collecting both on a trip.

Holodiscus discolor or Ocean Spray is blooming now.  Lots of tiny nectar filled flowers.

Here's another plant profile for the Linden/Basswood tree (Tilia americana).

When June arrives in the Puget Sound area most beekeepers are thinking about the Blackberry flow.  However in other parts of the country the Basswood tree helps make up the major June flow.  While not native to the northwest they historically were planted as street trees around neighborhoods in Seattle.   Linden trees are slow growing upright trees that can get quite large over time providing summer shade.  Unfortunately they have become unpopular as they are susceptible to aphids which causes them drip sticky sap on sidewalks and cars.  However if you are fortunate enough to have some these now giant trees in your neighborhood the nectar produced from their tiny yellow flowers makes for an appealing light honey.

The rain last week really boosted the blooms on these trees and they smell great right now.

Not a native but there are a few olive bushes in bloom right now.

Ilex crenata (Japanese holly).  The bees love this hedge plant and many people don't realize it has tiny little flowers.  I had a swarm call this week because one person mistook all the bee buzzing to be from a swarm in one of these hedges.

Also found a street with several late season Hawthorns in bloom.

Later blooming varieties of Laurel shrubs are flowering now.

Hive Checks (6/22/2013)
Plum Creek
Finally a nice patch of capped worker brood.  This is the queen from the split on 4/28 and she's about 2-3 weeks late to get going.  In talking with another beekeeper that raised queens about the same time I started he also saw this same slow to start for his queens.

Pretty solid brood pattern.

Icon Granddaughter Hive
To my surprise I found a nice patch of capped worker brood.  I guess she's not a drone layer after all!  This is the queen from the split on 5/1 and she's also about 2-3 weeks late to get going.   A few drones with deformed wing were found as well.  Gave them a frame of capped brood from the Icon daughter hive to help build their numbers up.

Looking more like a queen now.

You can see the larvae in cells with all the pollen around the patch of brood.  I'm going to give her some more time before I judge how good the pattern is.  Sometimes the cells aren't cleaned up enough for a nice solid pattern when the hive numbers start to drop.

This frame is looking a lot better then the last.

Here's a shot of some of the white honey they made in mid-May.

Rosemary Swarm
They took a half gallon of syrup this week and a few pounds of old comb honey.  They have drawn several new combs and finished drawing the partial combs I gave them.  I found signs of newly laid eggs and I'm pretty sure this was a cast swarm with a virgin queen since it took her about 10 days to start laying eggs.  Will need to give her a week or so to see how the pattern looks.  Gave them more syrup.

This was an older comb I gave them and they are finishing it up.  You can see the new white comb added onto the older comb.

I love how clean the new white comb looks.

The queen looks nice and fat.

Icon Daughter Nuc
The queen cell from last week has been capped and there was actually a second one in progress.  The queen is still there and laying.  A few drones with deformed wing were found.

This small queen keeps going.

A new queen is on the way.

They are looking good and are finally big enough to call them a hive again.  There were even a few eggs in drone sized cells and guard bees were keeping an eye on me.  They are missing the flow, but these girls were able to bring in honey last summer during the dearth when the rest of the hives weren't doing much, so I have high hopes they will end the summer on a decent note.

I'm amazed at how well these girls have bounced back.

Hive Checks (6/23/2013)
Geek Nuc
Things are looking good and most of the frames are full of capped brood.  Would like to see a few more bees covering the frames, but with the warm weather they should pull through.  Gave them more syrup.

After three years she still can fill out a frame.

Queen Castle
In general it looks like they lost too many bees back to the main hive for the slots to remain viable.  I have better luck when I move them to a new yard, but was trying something new this time.  Slots 2 & 3 may still have a queen in them running around as the cells were opened but I couldn't find her.

Geek Hive
Would have liked to have seen more nectar stored but the frames were getting heavier so will keep my fingered crossed that they keep it up.  Found the new queen and she's a darker girl with pretty gold bands.

The nurse bees already like her.

Architect Hive
Everything looked good and they are building up nicely.  Some stores, but they are still likely too small to take advantage of the flow.

They are just starting to cap all the brood on this frame working out from the center.

The queen being followed around by nurse bees.

Eggs laid in cells.  It looks like she missed a few.

Hive Checks (6/28/2013)
Saw multiple frames of hatched brood and lots of eggs.  The queen has apparently decided she needed to get to work and is laying up a storm.  The hive was noticeably calmer today with only a few pissy girls that wanted to head butt.

I like to see frames laid right to the edges like this.

I like this picture because you can see that the pollen is in the middle and the edges of the whole frame are solid brood.  You don't always see what you get in the stock photos and this queen is catching up for lost time.

Some brood and eggs on the way, but the queen seems to have slowed down.  I was just thinking how I didn't like the head butting these girls do when the hive builds up and a minute later found two queen cells in the works.  My gut tells me it's a supersedure attempt, but not wanting to mess around I put her in a cage to take home to the queen castle and left them to finish the two cells.  There really aren't enough bees in here yet to want to swarm.  I may need to check back in a week to clean up any emergency cells they build from eggs.

Queen Castle
Slot 2 - The Sand queen went in here as I couldn't find a queen.

Slot 3 - Saw the queen and she's darker than her mom, but not her new sister.  Will need to give her some resources soon.

Hive Checks (6/29/2013)
Picked up a large swarm from a local beekeeper.  This was a secondary swarm from the hive but it was still fairly large.  Helped them do a hive check to figure out what was going on.  It appears that even through they cut the remaining swarm cells down to the best 3 after the first swarm they still had young larvae and eggs and made several more emergency cells.  Found at least 4 queens running around in the hive and they were piping at each other.  Put one in a cage to take with the swarm as a "just in case" and moved one to the original swarm nuc they had made that appeared to be missing a queen and left two to fight it out.  There may have been more and I missed them (I saw more opened cells) and I wouldn't normally have left two but the first one I found was smaller and not knowing about the others I left her.  The other queens I found were all much bigger and would have been better to keep so I left the one to hopefully find and take out the smaller weaker queen.

So time consuming to scoop bees by hand out of a mass of branches.  That branch was unshakable.

Marching into their new home.  Loaned them 6 drawn frames and a half gallon of syrup for down payment, lets see if they can fill the hive in the next 3 weeks to earn their rent.

Rosemary Swarm
Gave them more syrup.

Hive Checks (6/30/2013)
Icon Daughter Nuc
Checked in to see how the supersedure was going and found both queens walking side by side.  The mother queen has dramatically slowed down her laying and there were many open empty cells without larvae or eggs left.  The nurse bees were still pretty much ignoring the new queen.  Saw a worker and drone with DWV and a few varroa mites and I'm hoping the newer queens picks up some more resistant traits from the drones she mated with.  I like this hive because it is so gentle and that is something worth keeping around.

Emerged queen cell (I found two like this but only one young queen).  I'm guessing the two virgin queens fought and now the strongest is in line to take over.

Mother queen showing her age.  Look at that nasty varroa!

Daughter queen.  Hmm, who was her father?

Here they both are and she's much bigger than her mom.  She likely hasn't developed enough pheromones to draw the attention from the nurse bees yet.

Back to the bees,