Sunday, June 15, 2014

Population Dynamics at Summer Solstice

There are so many variables to beekeeping that sometimes it can be hard to predict what's going to happen next in a hive because it also depends on whats happening outside the hive.  In general you want warm sunny days for good forage, but too much sunshine and the ground dries out and plats produce less nectar.  Usually in June we have a tug-a-war between rain and sunshine and the nectar flow is pretty good.  This year, in the city, it seems that June is turning out to be a so-so nectar month and we need a bit more rain.  Then by July (July 5 we always joke) we really start to dry out and the flow ends and there isn't much change until early fall.  That's a long time for them to survive on a few garden flowers and it forces hives to conserve resources and scale back.

Over the last month it seems like there has been something bee related going on every other day so my hive notes are getting a bit crazy.  However now that solstice has past we are at the top of the roller coaster and hopefully colonies can really shine in the next few weeks to bring in everything they can to get them through to the next spring.  There a few trees still coming in the neighborhood I'm looking forward to, mainly the chestnuts.  If you are reading between the lines I'm basically saying the beekeeping season will be switching in the coming weeks into dearth survival mode and winter planning for city hives.

Collecting nectar from wild Geranium.

Catmint (Nepeta) is a favorite early summer nectar source.

Spiraea japonica is a nectar producer and liked by many pollinators.

In addition to nectar, Blackberry also produces light gray/brown pollen.

Rockrose (Cistus) is a popular pollen source.

Shrub Ragwort (Brachyglottis x jubar) is another nectar source.

Hive checks (6/3/2014)
Rosemary Hive
Pulled some frames to make nucs for queen cells I got from a fellow beekeeper.  All part of the quest to try and find and promote successful queen lines that have survived several generations in the area.  Granted you loose a little bit of the original with each mating but my hope is that I'm also adding a little back into the local gene pool that doesn't get too washed out with CA genetics.  Besides my drones are plentiful and they should be able to out compete the few drones raised on foundation in CA packages.

This hive is raising a lot of worker brood to replace their losses.  Didn't see the queen, but it was late in the day and they weren't happy I was robbing frames from them.

Hive checks (6/7/2014)
This is a new name for the Sand hive in a new location.  The theme for all the hives at this location will be based on rock climbing terms because of the high wall they are are located on top of.

Picked up a tiny swarm in North Queen Anne not far from where I used to host hives.  I didn't see the queen and have a suspicion that it's a secondary swarm and she may be a virgin.  Will check them in a week to confirm and see how they are doing.  They are getting several frames of honey left behind by Sand.

Tiny, about the size of a kids foam football.  Maybe 1 pound of bees.

Hive checks (6/8/2014)
Plum Creek
They have drawn 2 full frames and 2 partial frames and cleaned up the old comb I gave them.  They also transferred all the syrup into comb. Spotted the queen and she looked healthy and there were a few frames with open brood soon to be capped.  This swarm is off to a good start.

Here's the queen, and they seem to like her.

They are doing great and the hive is full of comb and the bar I gave them last week was almost finished.  Found 3 empty cups, and signs of backfilling.  The queen was well attended and my plans are to split them next week.

Getting a lot of attention.

Several frames of healthy looking drones.

Hive checks (6/11/2014)
They are using most of the hive now and there is a good amount of brood coming.  There are stores of nectar but the frames seem light for this time of year so I'm hoping with all the brood coming they either start bringing in more nectar or start cutting back.  Lots of empty queen cups and not making much effort to build comb yet.  Saw one bee with a varroa mite on it.

The queen is looking good.

Hive checks (6/14/2014)
It looks like of the 4 nucs only two have queens. One is a Rebel daughter and she was laying frames full of eggs and looked like a clone of her mother.  The other queen is from a local line and she looked big but her abdomen wasn't very long yet.  Hopefully both mated or mate well.  Combined the two queenless nucs with the local queen to give them a boost.  Maybe that will get her laying.  I noticed that one of the emergency cells they made was actually from drone larvae and saw a large drone emerging from it.  Talk about ugly.

This queen is big and could knock around those drones if she wanted, however she hasn't elongated yet.  Hopefully she mates and starts laying soon.

This is the Rebel daughter queen.  She looks good and already has a few frames full of eggs.

Plum Creek
They are still trying to make crazy comb.  Queen and brood pattern looked good.  They are off to a good start and the queen seems to be aggressive to build up quickly.

Nice looking queen.

Laying pattern isn't perfect but overall seems good.

Found the new queen and was less than impressed with her size.  I couldn't find any eggs either but the hive is big and I could have easily have missed a patch on a frame so will give her another week.  If that doesn't work I'll combine them back with the sister queen that looks good and is laying.  Saw several drones with mites and a few drones with DWV.  I'm hoping the brood break will reset them.  Usually emergency queens are in better shape especially from a big hive like this.

Sadly that's the queen, barely bigger than a worker.  I don't have high hopes she will last very long.

Hive checks (6/15/2014)
My plan was to artificially swarm them today however with the crappy weather and upon what I saw in the inspection I decided against it.  It looks like they converted a fair amount of resources to raising brood and the hive population should triple in the next 2-3 weeks.  The queen is laying out full frames and avoiding the queen cups and the very edges of the frames.  I noticed that if it was a drone frame that she would lay right to the last cell but if it was worker there was a 3-4 cell buffer that she didn't touch.  My guess is that this is the setup for a massive buildup so they can issue multiple swarms and I will see those queen cups fill when the first wave of buildup starts emerging out.  The hive dynamics keep surprising me and they are doing well so I've held off splitting them assuming they know best.

Did a quick check and found a queen and she had laid a solid small patch of eggs and brood.  Some larvae were close to being capped which would indicate that she started laying right away and that this was the existing queen that swarmed and not a new virgin queen from a secondary swarm.  For a small swarm like this my guess is that someone was overfeeding a package and also wasn't expanding the broodnest and thus triggered swarming conditions. If the bees were smaller I might have assumed they were from a tree or wall, but they are not regressed so likely a beekeeper mistake.

Hive checks (6/16/2014)
They are using about half the hive right now and they are in buildup mode again after having donated several frames to make nucs.  The growth has been slow and not as robust as what I was seeing a month ago.  The queen looked good, however the brood pattern seemed a bit spotty.

Another queen shot.

Hive checks (6/17/2014)
Picked up a decent sized swarm that I would guess to be about 5 pounds in Lynnwood at an office park near Scriber Creek.  It was about 12 feet up in a cherry tree and had started making comb.  Mostly light colored bees, but I did see a percentage of half black and half yellow and a few all black bees which I almost never see.  I'm curious what they are mixed with for those dark bees.  Not sure what hive they are going to go into so they are in a nuc for now.

Fortunately I had a step latter that allowed me to lift my nuc right up into that mass.  I still had to scoop them into the box by hand because that branch was unshakable.

Hive checks (6/19/2014)
A swarm picked one of the empty hives (well not completely empty it was full of comb) in my apiary today.  There was an eye witness account of a cloud of bees and then a massive backup/cluster as they all rushed to get into the hive.  Apparently they did in minutes what can take an hour or more on a swarm catch.

I'll leave them alone for a bit and take a peak in a week to see how they are doing.  I often hear people talk about swarms being free bees but fail to account for all the effort it takes to get them.  I'd have to say these were truly free bees and took no effort to get.  The report was that they came from a SE direction which makes me wonder if they might have crossed the lake to get here.

Hive checks (6/20/2014)
The non-laying queen I saw in the nuc last week was nowhere to be found.  There are a couple frames of bees I'm going to combine with the Scriber Creek swarm pickup.

Rebel Daughter Nuc
Took a quick peak and the queen looks good.  Hard to comment on the laying pattern just yet as they wanted me out of there after looking at a couple frames.  It was getting late in the day and these are still the feisty workers from the old Rebel queen that only tolerate me under ideal conditions.

She looks just like her mom.

Hive checks (6/21/2014)
They are using the entire hive at this point minus two empty combs at the very back.  They are slowly building comb, and are far more stubborn about it than the Luna hive has been.  The queen is still being conservative with her laying pattern and avoiding the worker cells along the edges of the frames like in the Luna hive.  The slow buildup strategy seems to have paid off so far for them, so now the test is to see if they can bring in nectar this late in the season.  Any surge in nectar producing plants will likely trigger them to swarm.

There's the queen, and off to the left is a bee with varroa mite.  

Hive checks (6/21/2014)
Basically the same status as last weeks inspection.  Lots of drones where flying today during the inspection which slowed things down as drones are harder to nudge out of the way.  Due to the recent swarms and the hive shuffling it was good that I could hold off another week before doing anything with this hive despite that having been my plan.

The queen pushing her way through the crowd.

The boys are heading out for some air.

Hive checks (6/22/2014)
This is the new name for the old Surf hive at it's new location.  I've moved the swarm from Plum Creek into this hive.  They built 2-3 combs in the last week and the pattern is looking very nice.  They also have nice reserves of pollen and nectar built up.

The first wave of new bees are emerging out.  Most of the frames looked like this with a nice honey and pollen arch.

The two darker areas of this comb are the original lobs they made as they started building this comb.  The queen laid those cells before the comb was even built out and what I'm looking at here is the larvae are all approximately the same age in that first wave.

Here is the queen.

The queen has been busy and is stretching them as far as she can.  I have a feeling this hive will take off with all the old comb and honey resources I left them.

Nice sized queen that is waiting for bees to emerge so she can grow this little hive further.

This was the edge of the brood nest and she has a nice solid pattern.  The other frames were all partial as well, but equally well defined.

Scriber Creek
This is what I'm calling the swarm I picked up last Tuesday.  They have drawn 6 combs in the last week.  Almost all the new combs and the three donated combs were filled with nectar or pollen and I saw NO signs of brood.  If I hadn't also seen the queen I would have thought they were queenless, however I did so I'm guessing she might have been virgin queen perhaps taking a primary swarm with her based on it's size.  Maybe the existing queen couldn't fly for some reason.  Either way hopefully she starts laying in the next week.  I combined them with a frame of bees that came from the nuc that had the non-laying queen a week ago that has since disappeared.  They are now in one of my largest nucs and are getting an additional 8 frames of drawn comb that should give the queen motivation and a place to lay.

Here she is.  She is a little smaller but looks like she is ready to lay.  Perhaps in the next week.

Back to the bees,

- Jeff

Sunday, June 1, 2014

May Flowers and Favorable Weather Conditions

Sadly May was a busy month and I wasn't able to find time to post any updates.  The bees have been building up and storing a good amount of honey so far this season.  With regular hive checks and some efforts to keep the broodnest open, so far I've been successful at suppressing the swarming instinct without needing to split hives.  I've found that June is a much better month to split and mate queens in my neighborhood.    

I wasn't able to get a video but if you happen to walk by a Papaver somniferum in bloom you might be able to see the bees rolling around in the pollen like they are intoxicated.  As you can see here this girl is trying to haul back as much pollen as she can carry.

Choisya or Mexican orange bloomed early May as well.

Wild Geraniums started blooming early May and will continue until it gets too dry for them.

Creeping thyme is a good nectar source.

Photinia is another May nectar source and is common in city neighborhoods.

Camas is a native bulb that blooms early May.

Some varieties of Lavender are already blooming.

Raspberries bloomed early in May.

Mock Orange or Philadelphus coronarius is a nectar source.

Black Locust is a good nectar source and can create a nectar flow.  We have quite a few of them around in the neighborhood.

 Raphiolepis umbellata provides nectar.

When thinking of bee plants it's easy to forget that flowering trees or shrubs can also be great food sources. Once established trees and shrubs generally hold up well during dry weather, when many flowers are wilting, and can reach water deeper in the ground which keeps their nectar output going. The Snowbell tree gets it's name from the snow white bell shaped flowers that hang downwards along it's branches.  This tree has a compact shape with dark green leaves and horizontally spreading branches.  The tree does well in partial sun and tolerates acidic soil and it does not complete with woodland plants in it's root area.  However it does need frequent watering if in a dry or high sun exposure location and also needs to be protected from wind.  You can propagate this tree using softwood cuttings in summer or from seed.

Japanese Snowbell Tree (Styrax japonicus)

Hive check (5/5/2014)
Rosemary Hive
Checked to see how they have been doing in the last week and there are no signs of backfilling and in fact I found a fair number of empty cells in the broodnest and not much open brood.  I suspect the hot weather last week followed by a storm caused them to shut down brood rearing for a few days.  Several queen cups present but all were empty.  Saw the queen and she looked healthy.

Cleaning up a little spilled honey/nectar.

The queen doing her thing.

Hive check (5/10/2014)
Luna Hive
They are now using about 70% of the hive and are backfilling.  Saw the queen and she looked good.  Lots of frames of drones coming as well and they have been storing a good amount of nectar in the last week.  Found 3 queen cups with eggs laid today in them.  I removed the cells and added a few empty bars to the broodnest and a couple bars of empty comb to the back of the hive for nectar storage.  My goal is to split this hive but ideally I want to delay the process 10-15 days.

Lots of nectar coming in.

 Looking for places to lay eggs.

Lots of drones.  Some beekeepers would cut out frames like this, I see these guys as mating stock for queens at my other locations.  So far this is my best hive and they have shown the ability to eliminate DWV.  In visual scans of my photos and during inspections I'm not seeing any signs of varroa on the bees either.  We need more genetics like these in the area.

Hive check (5/11/2014)
Ballard Hive
They are still building up slowly.  Some signs of backfilling, but overall a good amount of brood coming.  Not many larvae at the moment, but I suspect this coming week of sunshine will change that.  Using about 40% of the hive.  Didn't see any signs of DWV.  Added an empty bar for them to build.

She is a conservative queen and building up slowly.

Still seeing a few bees with DWV, and those are mostly drones.  The hive is growing again and there is a good amount of brood coming.  Lots of orientation flights going on.  They are using about 75% of the hive now and are storing a lot of pollen and nectar.  Added a couple empty bars for them to build.

Here is a photo of a comb repair I did last year.  You can't really tell anymore but there is a window through the comb and the old comb was partially cut off because it was perpendicular to the bar.

The queen doing her thing.  It's nice to see she actually has attendants following her today.

Hive check (5/13/2014)
Rosemary Hive
Brood nest is backfilled but no signs of swarming yet.  Nectar and pollen stores are way up from a week ago.  They also did nothing with the empty bar I gave them last week and I adjusted it's placement.  The hive is 90% full now but they are not raising much brood.  I'm curious to see what this week of nice weather brings and if they will start building comb or decide they would rather make plans to swarm.

Pollen is coming in.  I like to see a lot of variety.

Hive check (5/17/2014)
Rosemary Hive
Opened the hive to pull brood frames and resources to make up two nucs.  Inspection was quick and saw the queen and that they have finally decided to start building new comb.  I pulled 6 frames total out of the hive.

Made up two nucs with virgin queens in cages that emerged today.  The source was from an overwintered local hive.

Virgin queen with a couple of attendants to care for her.

Hive check (5/18/2014)
Luna Hive
Lots of nectar and they are starting to cap honey.  The color is darker and I suspect it's from the Hawthorn trees.  Hawthorn doesn't seem to be the first choice for them to work but it's very abundant so they can be picky about which tree they think is just right to work.  Lots of capped drone cells as well.  They were building a little crazy comb in the back and had built most of the two bars I gave them last week.  I gave them several more bars to work on.  No signs they were trying to build queen cells this time and should be good for another 10 or so days before I suspect the hive will be out of room.

Hive check (5/19/2014)
Released the virgin queens in both nucs in the AM so they could potentially get out to fly today.  The South nuc might be a little too week and need more bees.

Hive check (5/20/2014)
Ballard Hive
They are still building up slowly and are now using about 60% of the hive.  Some signs of backfilling, but overall a good amount of brood coming and they were building comb.  Workers had cleaned cells further back in the hive for the queen to lay in but she seemed to be ignoring them.  Found a single cup with a freshly laid egg that I removed.  It's possible that they don't like the slow buildup either and they might be thinking of replacing her.  Will see if a new queen cell returns next week.  No signs of DWV were found.

Another shot of the queen.

Only saw a few bees with DWV and most of those were drones.  Lots of backfilling but they are also building new comb.  They are using about 90% of the hive now.  They were fairly calm for a late day inspection.  Added another empty bar for them to start working on.

The queen is looking well cared for now.

A good variety of pollen coming into this hive.  It's unusual to see pollen stored in this hive as they usually use it as fast as it comes in.

Hive check (5/26/2014)
Luna Hive
No swarm plans yet, but they are running out of empty cells for the queen to lay in.  Saw the queen and she was busy looking for clean cells.  The drone population in this hive is peaking at about 25% of the population.  Yes this is higher than any of my other hives but they are still storing honey and the queen is still laying out frames in worker brood (at least any that aren't filled with honey).  They are building new comb on the bars I gave them as well.  Interestingly enough I think the high drone population has actually slowed them down a couple weeks on the swarm impulse given how backfilled the broodnest is at the moment.  Also I noted that drones were making an effort to cover capped worker brood to keep them warm while the workers were either collecting nectar/pollen or festooning to build comb.

There aren't many frames left where she can lay a patch of brood like this.  Notice all the drones on this frame.

The queen is looking in a cell to make sure it's clean.  I suspect this is why I sometimes miss her.

Rosemary hive
The hives growth seems to have slowed down a bit.  After just seeing a hive with a high drone count this hive seemed to be lacking in drones with less than 5% drones.  They aren't storing as much nectar/pollen, and are building comb slowly.

A nice shot of the queen.

Well so far things don't look good.  Took a quick look and couldn't find either queen.  Granted new queens can be hard to find sometimes, but I'm pretty sure they weren't around.  However I have missed them before so will check again in a few days.

Hive check (5/30/2014)
Ballard Hive
They are still building up slowly and are using about 65% of the hive now.  The honey arches on several frames seemed a bit light compared to what I've been seeing in the other hives.  Saw the queen and she looked good, but she still isn't being very aggressive in laying eggs.

Rebel Hive
The queen died in the last week.  I found her in the very back of the hive on the bottom board.  They were making several emergency queen cells.  Some capped and some close to being capped.  Cells were on three separate frames so I split out two nucs to increase my mating odds.  Not sure why they didn't see whatever killed the queen coming and my only thought is that perhaps the viral load they've had this spring has taken it's toll on the queen.  Overall DWV was actually looking pretty good on this inspection with just a few bees showing signs.

This was the cell that got damaged on removing the frame.  I'd guess she was around day 11.

Here's a cell they haven't capped yet.

Usually you don't find the old dead queen, but sure enough I saw a bee trying to drag her out.

Hive check (5/31/2014)
Plum Creek
Had a swarm call today and picked them up.  It seemed average sized for a swarm and I'd guess is was about 3 pounds of bees.  It seemed smaller so perhaps it's a secondary swarm with a virgin queen.  Based on the bee size I can tell they came from a hive using foundation.

Looks bigger from this angle.  At least I could reach it without a ladder.

Hive check (6/1/2014)
Luna Hive
No signs of swarming and they are still finding space for the queen to lay in.  The entire hive is slowly turning into honey with a few exceptions here and there and a few frames of bee bread.  If they haven't tried to swarm by mid June I'll split them and let them build emergency cells. I squeezed out enough room today to add one more new bar they can build out.  Saw the queen and she looked good.  I also noticed that many bees were dancing to be cleaned by other bees.  I wonder if that hygienic behavior is part of what has helped them recover from disease.

Another nice frame of brood.

A close up of very young larvae.  Notice how well fed they are that they are shiny or wet looking.

Here is the queen.

Plum Creek
Had time to add syrup and some empty comb today.  They had built two tiny 4 inch lobs of comb in the last 16 hours that were so horribly off-center and crooked I had to remove them.  I did see a few eggs in one of the pieces so I now know this is a primary swarm with a laying queen.

Back to the bees,