Thursday, May 1, 2014

Preventing May Swarms

In an unusual twist we've had almost 5 days of sunshine in a row.  This combined with the time of year and the recent maple flow and we may be looking at a wave of swarms in the coming week or two.  While some areas go into a short dearth after the maple flow many city neighborhoods have plenty of flowers coming into bloom to keep colonies well fed.  Currently I'm seeing fresh nectar getting stored along with a rainbow of pollen colors.   I believe a wide variety of pollen colors is very desirable quality to look for when assessing hives and is a sign they are seeking out (or getting access to) variety of food sources.

So far I've been able to hold off the swarm impulse by expanding the brood nest, but stretches of sunshine like this can make that difficult.  A hive only needs 7-10 days to swarm and if you miss a weekly inspection you could very easily miss preventing a swarm.  I also don't want to start splits just yet as it's still early in the season for good drone coverage.  When I start seeing the drone populations get in the 10-15% range across all my hives it's a safe bet that there is likely good coverage available.  If swarms occur too early in the season the new queens can have difficulty mating and the hives can fail or not build up well enough for winter. 

Girl collecting pollen from white & blue Hyacinthoides hispanica. 

There is a shared love between gardeners and bees for poppies and they are a welcome sign that summer is just around the corner.  Poppies are considered an excellent pollen source and their open petals invite bees to come dance in their stamens to collect pollen.  Poppies can be found in most parts of the world and vary from being an annual or perennial depending on the species.  Papaver nudicaule (Iceland poppy - pictured) are usually considered biennials and have blue green foliage and long lasting papery flowers that hold up well during our rainy springs.  The seeds are very fine and can successfully reseed themselves between rocks and in cracks along sidewalks.  Papaver somniferum are bigger bulkier poppies that can survive for years and are also the source of poppy seeds.  Multiple bees can visit these these large flowers and depending on the variety may be collecting black pollen.  These poppies generally prefer full sun and well drained soils and will go dormant during our long dry summers only to reappear again in spring.

Iceland poppy.  They are a great source of quality pollen.

Collard flowers are in bloom.

Salmonberry is a local native that is now in bloom.

Ornithogalum umbellatum are coming up.  Another flower that some think are weeds.  Just remember that weeds are plants growing in places you don't want them to grow.

Scotch broom is keeping the girls attention.

Viburnum is filling the air with it's sweet scent.

Hive checks (4/18/2014)

Moved the Sand hive to the old Luna hive location. The queen looked good and the looked like they were building up well.  Saw some drones.  Going to change their name to Luna to stick with the new location.

You can see the waves in the brood pattern as the hive expanded in size.

Hive checks (4/25/2014)

Rosemary Hive
Saw the queen and she's been busy.  They have built out the empty bar I gave them two weeks ago and signs of back-filling are gone.  They are now using 75% of the hive for the broodnest (3 feet of comb).  Saw several queen cups but no eggs laid in any of them yet and I wouldn't expect to see eggs since I didn't see any backfilling and the queen had plenty of space still.  At their current size a week of nice weather would be all they need to fill up the hive with food and be thinking about plans to swarm.  Drones are flying from this hive now.

New bee emerging, or trying to when her sisters aren't walking over her face.

The queen looking for places to lay eggs.

Drone cells, not to be mistaken for queen cells can extend out.

Queen cups (empty).

Hive checks (4/27/2014)

Rebel Hive
They are using about 50% of the hive.  They have several frames of drones coming.  I'm still seeing signs of DWV but it appears that they are outpacing the issue and it's not dragging the hive down. I am also seeing some white comb and there are a couple queen cups present.  The queen was again at the back of the hive laying on empty combs like I noticed at the last inspection.  They were slightly reactive as usual, but overall not too aggressive since there was a light breeze during the inspection.

Here she is looking well cared for.

Looks like a solid pattern minus the spots they stored pollen.

Hive checks (4/29/2014)

Luna Hive (Bees from the Sand hive)
These girls have really taken off in the last few weeks and are now using about 40% of the hive.  For a hive with a heavy case of DWV late August/September they really managed to turn things around against the odds.  There are a lot of drones in the hive and they have good pollen and nectar stores coming in.  It looked like they were trying to build comb as well.  The brood pattern looks good and there is a really nice color spectrum of pollen stored which is another plus.  This is the 3rd daughter queen from this line each surviving a winter and I'm thinking with their ability to recover from DWV they might actually have the treatment free traits I've been looking for.  Every other queen in this line up to now has pretty much rolled over and died as soon as a trace of DWV reared it's face.

Lots of pollen colors.  A sign they are visiting a variety of plants and getting a varied diet.

Bee bread is when they mix pollen and nectar to slightly ferment the pollen to help release proteins.

Nice solid brood pattern.

This girl has blue-green pollen.

You can see the brood wave here with a pollen barrier that formed as they emerged.  Depending on how the rest of the broodnest looks this could be a swarm warning sign.

Hive checks (4/30/2014)

Ballard Hive
Still seeing a conservative buildup by the queen, but the population is growing.  They have a good supply of pollen and fresh nectar stored.  Saw the queen and she looked good.  They aren't expanding to use more of the hive yet like I've seen with the other hives.  Will need to keep an eye that they don't decide they just want to stay small and surprise swarm on me.  They are using about 25% of the hive.  The good news is I only saw 1 girl with DWV and otherwise they looked healthy.  Not many drones in this hive yet.

More punk bees.  I sampled some pollen to research to see if I can determine the floral source.

The queen is taking her time to build up and is not very adventurous onto new combs. 

Back to the bees.

- Jeff