Monday, April 14, 2014

Spring Build-up and Drone Maturity

Spring is marching along and we now have an abundance of flowers in bloom with cherry wrapping up and maples at their peak.  On top of that we've had several nice days of weather in a row which really gets the girls moving.  When there is an abundance food coming into the hive there is an opportunity for strong hives to try and swarm, and I've already heard of a few reports.

What I find interesting about these early swarms is that based on my observations I think they are unlikely to be rewarded for such a risk.  It is still a bit early for successful queen mating with the first wave of drones still a week or more away from sexual maturity and nice weather spotty at best.  Perhaps they might get lucky with rolling the dice, but I would think Mother nature would punish such behavior.  I'd be curious to get a peak into some of these early swarm hives to see how their drones are looking.

This girl is working scotch broom, another invasive weed.

Sweet cicely is in bloom.  This is one of those older forgotten herbs that doesn't find a place in modern herb garden for some reason.

Bleeding hearts (Lamprocapnos spectabilis) are blooming and are popular in woodland gardens even if they are not our native version (Dicentra formosa).

Leopard's Bane (Doronicum orientale) starts blooming early in the season.

Spanish bluebells are just starting to bloom and provide pollen and nectar.  

Vinca minor is putting out more blooms now.

Silver dollar plants (Lunaria annua) are in bloom.

Columbine or Aquilegia are just starting to bloom and do well in woodland gardens.

Hive checks (4/12/2014)

They are building up quickly and had a few drones moving around and more on the way.  They are using about 60% of the hive at this point and there were some signs that they might be back-filling a bit and had a surplus of pollen stored.  I also noticed some practice queen cups showing up.  I added one empty bar to see if they would start building comb with the light flow that's going right now.

The queen is looking well cared for.

My what big eyes you have.  These drones still have a couple weeks from emerging before they are sexually mature to mate.

The broodnest is about the same as the last time I looked at them and they are being fairly conservative in building up and only using about 25% of the hive.  I did see a few bees with DWV and I suspect that is contributing to the slower buildup pace.

The punk bees are out, or what I call punk bees for their distinctive pollen marks.  This is not paint some researcher put on the bees, but rather it's pollen.  The pollen is positioned in a flowers in such a way that when the bee enters the flower the pollen gets deposited onto the back of the bees thorax.  I'm not sure which flower is out right now that does this, but at one time had heard it was horse chestnut.  However I don't believe that is actually the source anymore because it is far too soon for those to be in bloom.  Another reason I don't think it's horse chestnuts is that they have both reddish and yellow pollen and I've never seen this marking in any pollen color other than yellow or cream.  I've also heard jewel weed is the source and have seen matching pictures, but it's too early for that as well.  Another theory I've heard is that it's from flowers that get pollen all over the bees body and that's the only area they can't clean well, but I don't believe that either because I know they can clean around their head & eyes and and you can clearly see grains of pollen in those areas.  I also only see this until June and then it doesn't show up anymore.  Perhaps one day I'll find this mysterious flower or someone that can ID the pollen source from a sample. 

Standing out in a crowd.

Looking for space to lay eggs.

They have good numbers and lots of activity.  They are using about 50% of the hive and I found the queen laying eggs outside of the broodnest area on old honey combs that were empty.  Usually you don't find the queen on the first frame you look at in the back but if that's where there are empty cells left then it makes sense she would go there.  I did see some sign of backfilling but not like the Rosemary hive.  Most concerning was I did see more bees with DWV on this inspection which may be an indicator they aren't going to be able to knock it down quickly and I will need to keep an eye one them that they don't start to collapse.  This hive has always appeared to be more resistant to issues so I'm curious to see how they do with this outbreak.

Queen with her entourage making an effort to expand the broodnest.

You can see that there is pollen and nectar backfilled into the center of the broodnest in this photo.  If this was mostly nectar and repeated on other frames I would take steps to prevent swarming.

Back to the bees,

- Jeff

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Offically It's Spring

Seems like just a few weeks ago we had snow on the ground and now hives are building up as quickly as they can to take advantage of the abundant supply of nectar and pollen the spring flowers are producing.  Spring is tricky for hives since there is an abundance of food available but cold nights and heavy rains force hives to pace themselves.  Often this time of year hives are using nearly 100% of the resources coming in and a minor setback can quickly lead to starvation.  I find leaving extra honey on the hives in fall greatly helps to add a cushion if a late storm should pass through for a few days.

Chocolate lily (Fritillaria affinis)

The Northwest is a great place for bulbs to grow and they provide are an excellent source of early Spring pollen to help hives build up.  There are so many commercial options available to choose from for your landscape that it's easy for one to forget about the native options.  One of our natives is the Chocolate lily with a long grass like stem and hanging brown speckled flowers. Today these lilies are rare to find in the wild, but they were once more common and even cultivated.  Local tribes grew them as a food source that was either cooked right away or dried and eaten later or used for trade.  These lilies do best in open dry wooded areas or meadows that have rich organic soils that stay moist but never in areas that have standing water.  They can be grown from seed or you can start new bulbs from the small rice sized bulblets that grow around the main bulb.

Daphne is in bloom.

Azalea can be a nectar source but also contains grayanotoxin and any resulting honey should be left for the bees.  I've heard that this only applies to uncured honey from older beekeepers but have also never seen a medical study that indicates that capped honey is free of the toxin.

Star Magnolia (Magnolia stellata) is in bloom.

I ran across a few of these and at first glance I thought wow that's an unusual color blue to purple shade for Grape hyacinth and then noticed the broad leaves.  After a little research I found that they are Muscari latifolium or broad-leaved grape hyacinth.

Brunnera macrophylla is in bloom.

Anemone blanda is another nice ground-cover in bloom.

Avalanche Lily (Erythronium montanum) is a native that is hard to find.  It is something special if you find a patch growing outside of Mt. Rainier park.

Norway maples are a popular street tree and come into bloom just slightly before our native big leaf maple.  The ladybugs are out now as well.

Hive checks (3/15/2014)

The weather wasn't great but was warm enough to make some adjustments and make sure the hives had food stores nearby.  Also took the opportunity to move the nucs into the larger hives that died.

Moved the Rosemary nuc into the old Geek hive that the Geek daughter was in.  They were building up and had several frames of brood.

Combined the Ballard swarm with the cluster from the old Geek queen.  The Geeks were queen-less and had no signs of a new queen but the cluster was in good shape.  They have a small cluster of bees left and there were no signs of a laying worker.  The Ballard hive was building up and had several frames of brood.

Nice start to the brood nest.

Not to be mistaken for brood this is what crystallized honey looks like.

Rebels - Didn't inspect after string up the other two hives with foragers reorienting to the new hive locations.

Hive checks (3/23/2014)

Did a full inspection and saw the queen.  They had 5-6 frames of brood and a few capped drone cells as well.  Saw 2-3 bees with DWV which surprised me to see this early in the year.   I'm hoping the spring buildup will outrun any problems they might have.

Two new fuzzy bees ready to pick up tasks from the winter bees.

The queen looked like she was in good shape.

Making drones.  At this pace those drones will be sexually mature around the last week in April. Knowing when drones are sexually mature is key knowing when the earliest queens in the area might be successful at mating.  From egg drones take 38 +/- 5 days to reach sexual maturity.

After coming close to death last year this hive has done very well this winter.  I can see that they did eat through a lot of stores and had moved towards the front of the hive again.  They had a large brood nest of 8-9 frames with two of those frames being all capped drone cells.  Did a full inspection and saw the queen.  Saw 2-3 bees with DWV which surprised me to see this early in the year and in this hive which has never shown any signs of illness before.  I'm hoping the spring buildup will outrun any problems they might have.  These girls weren't too aggressive... but they are still very reactive if you make a sudden hand movement, breath on the frame or bump/pop a frame.

The queen has already gone back and filled in where the broodnest was previously.  This tells me that they were raising brood in Mid-February if not earlier.  Also notice there is little to no food on this frame.

Here she is, being ignored as usual.  This hive has always been an odd exception to what you usually see.

Drones on the way and these cells look a little more worn then the ones in the Ballard hive.

Did a full inspection and saw the queen.  They had 5-6 frames of brood and just a few capped drone cells.  This hive was getting direct sun during the inspection and the girls were out everywhere, but otherwise not aggressive like they were last fall.  Didn't see any signs of disease in this hive.

The girls catching some rays.

This was on the edge of the broodnest but you can see some drone cells here as well.

Here is the queen.

More drone cells.  I'm also noticing here that there are no food stores on this frame.

Bringing home pollen.

Confirmed that they didn't make it.  There was a small dead cluster left with a hundred or so bees (they froze in that last storm).  I was worried that this hive and the Luna hive weren't building up enough going into winter.

This hive looked better last inspection before the February storm.  It looks like that storm killed a lot of cluster and there were a lot of rotting bees at the bottom.  However there was still enough left to keep going.  Found the queen and saw eggs and brood over 3 frames in a small cluster.  They are about 3 weeks behind the other hives at this point for buildup.  I moved frames of honey forward so the broodnest had more resources on each side.  This hive does also get points for overcoming a serious DWV outbreak going into fall (usually that is doom for a hive) and is the first and only queen left in this queen line that's ever been able to turn around a hive after DWV shows up.

Small broodnest but nice solid pattern.

Even a few drone cells in this small broodnest.

Based on how the center has emerged out I would say they started raising brood around the beginning of March.  The queen is hiding in this picture as well.

From a management point of view I try new things every year to try and improve wintering results.  I'm thinking with top bars once they start brooding up in February I need to move honey forward just inside the entrance as they start moving back forward away from the honey in the back.  Otherwise when that late cold snap comes they get stuck a few frames away from the bulk of the honey stores.  Something I'll experiment more with next winter to see how it works out.

Back to the bees,

- Jeff