Friday, August 23, 2013

Preparations for Winter

August is already winding down and the bees have been busy preparing for winter.  Yes that's not a typo, the hives are placing stores closer to the brood nest and raising bees that will be prepared for several months of minimal activity during winter.  With 21 days between each brood cycle there isn't a lot of time left for hives to beef up their numbers and make winter bees to replace the summer workforce.  As we nudge into fall and then winter the broodnest will get ever smaller as they back fill with honey and pollen.  Because these winter bees are so important for colony survival I have been hypersensitive about noting signs of disease and/or pests during my hive checks this month.

Collecting nectar from thistle.

Black Eyed Susan is a nectar source.

 Sedum Stonecrop is a good nectar source that is coming into bloom.

Russian Sage is another popular late season nectar source.

Plains Coreopsis also does well late summer. 

Milkweed is a nectar source for bees, and is also the only food source for Monarch caterpillars.  Butterflies drink nectar from many flowers but if you want them to reproduce you need to have a few milkweed plants around.

Goldenrod can be a big nectar source this time of year.  This plant was covered in tiny wasps.

I've noticed several Cherry Laurel (Prunus laurocerasus) plants putting out a second bloom this year.  Usually they only bloom early spring.

A week ago I got a call to look at a beehive in a tree to determine if they could be removed.  When I got there I found a massive 6 foot diameter tree with a hole about 15 feet up.  The activity looked good and they looked as happy as bees could be and the tree was in excellent health as well.  It's hard to say how long the nest had been there but I talked them out of removal and to just let them exist since it's unlikely they would bother anyone with and entrance so high up and any kind of removal would likely kill them this time of year and potentially damage the tree.  I told them if it gets to be a problem we could try a trap out in spring otherwise just call me when they swarm.

The entrance to this bee fortress is at the indent in the upper right trunk.

Echinacea is a type of coneflower native to eastern and central North American forests and grasslands.  It has a distinctive spiked center with drooping petals and gets it's common name from Greek word "ekhinos" for sea urchin.  This perennial doesn't need much water and prefers airy dry soil and can take partial shade making it a good candidate for our northwest gardens.  They are often covered in bees when in bloom and produce ample nectar.  Where Echinacea is grown commercially a flavorful medium colored honey can be produced.

I've had a few people tell me they aren't seeing the bees on their Echinacea this year.  If the plant is too dry it won't produce nectar. 

In top bar hives you can get some honey combs mixed into the brood nest depending on what they were drawing when you added spacer bars.  This is the month I have been moving non-worker bars forward or back so that the broodnest mostly has combs that are worker sized cells.  I like 1-2 frames of storage frames inside the entrance that can be any cell size that they usually use for pollen and honey and then worker frames and then multiple frames of honey in the back.

Ideally I like to leave at least 5-6 frames of solid honey in the back plus whatever is backfilled into the broodnest so they have enough to feed on February through May.  This usually allows me to avoid feeding.  My frames when full are about 6-7 pounds so if I have 8 frames of honey and 8-10 brood frames I'm usually over the 80 pounds you want to have in the city.  I find that since I don't inflate the populations with feeding that usually is far more honey than they actually use in the winter, but it makes the difference in spring when they want to build up.

Hive checks (8/10/2013)

The population as a whole is down and they have multiple frames of capped brood on the way and good honey stores.  I saw signs of DWV and the larvae didn't look as moist as they should and I'm concerned about their overall health.  Reduced the entrances and condensed the brood nest to only worker frames moving out the drone frames.  I did not see signs of varroa.

Lots of nectar in this hive.

This hive looked to be in much the same situation as the Surf hive and I performed the same actions to condense the brood nest.   I'm hoping with the large amounts of brood coming that they can outrun the issue they are having, but sadly based on past experiences sick looking hives don't get better this time of year.  I am however more optimistic of this hive because this is a newly mated queen.

Can you see the eggs in the cells?

Hive checks (8/11/2013)

Geek Daughter
They took the syrup I gave them on last inspection and I'm seeing lots of new nectar stored on back frames, just not on the brood frames.  I'm not going to feed them again as the population size looks healthy and am going to wait and see why they don't store much honey at the tops of brood frames.  I did move two drone frames back behind the broodnest so the worker brood frames are all together right inside the entrance and will get the benefit of nectar and pollen coming in from foragers.  I'm not seeing any signs of disease.

This girl is bringing in propolis that is collected from trees.

The queen is off to a good start.

Ballard Swarm
Lots and lots of brood coming.  They are in buildup mode still.  They have 3-4 inch honey arches on every frame and have some pollen reserves as well.  They will be in good shape for winter once they start to backfill.  They are also still drawing comb which is hard to get them to do in August!

Getting attention from the attendants.

Rosemary Swarm
The girls were a little pissy today.  They are still drawing comb (slightly crazy comb) and trying to build up.  I added two spacer bars to see if they can draw them out. Hive looks healthy.

Another busy queen.

The girls weren't pissy until I got half way through the broodnest today.  I guess that's a plus.  I didn't see the queen but everything looks good and their population seems to have stabilized now.  Nectar is coming in and getting stored.  Hive looks healthy.

Hive checks (8/13/2013)
Icon Granddaughter
Things have definitely turned around in this hive since the supersedure.  This hive has had signs of DWV all season and I only saw one bee with DWV today which was an improvement.  The brood was looking a lot more solid than it's been the last couple months and the larvae was looking really good as well.

Lots of healthy looking bees in this hive now.

They are building up and things look good.  No signs of disease in this hive.  There is a fair amount of honey in this hive but also some partial combs they aren't drawing out anymore so I might have to do some swapping next inspection.

You can't tell she is three years old.

They had a surplus of pollen on last inspection and have been making good use of it raising a lot of brood.  The hive is bringing in nectar and building up reserves.  The queen is very active and everything looks really good in this hive.

She was running around too much and I couldn't get a good picture with attendants circling her.

Hive checks (8/19/2013)
Checked the hives at the new host site today and finally got around to naming them.  I decided on Luna, Latin for Moon for the West facing hive and Solis, Latin for Sun for the East facing hive.

Luna on the left and Solis on the right.

This queen is a daughter form the Surf hive that was raised in Plum Creek.  I'm feeding both hives to build them up a bit more so they go into October with better numbers.  Both hives have minimal stores as well.  I saw a few bees with DWV in this hive, which means all three daughters from the Surf hive have some level of DWV.  While this hive is small it did not give me the same sickly impression that her two sister hives did.  Pulled the drone/honey frames out of the brood nest to help them optimize their resources.

Not the greatest pattern, but it'll do.

Nice sized tiger striped queen.  She is well liked.

This hive is about on par with the Luna hive.  This is a daughter of the Geeks and they have established a small but stable brood nest.  Her pattern is also a little spotty in places but based on what I've seen before I think it will be better once they build up more.  This hive also coats more heavily with propolis.  They inherited several frames of brood from the original Icon Granddaughter hive that always showed signs of DWV, but the queen and bees introduced came from the "resistant" hive and now I'm not seeing any signs of DWV.  Pulled the drone/honey frames out of the broodnest to help them optimize their resources.

I'm going to have trouble keeping track of the queens in these two hives since the look like twins.  She is also well liked by her daughters.

Good looking frame of brood, but they weren't all like this.

The girls are also eagerly working the mint growing in the garden.

Back to the bees,

- Jeff

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