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

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