Thursday, July 31, 2014

A swarm in July

"A swarm in July ain't worth a fly"... at least that's what they say.  In the Seattle area I would agree that swarms this time of year or later are basically doomed unless a beekeeper makes an effort AND some investment to save them.  A big swarm could build enough comb but are unlikely to fill it unless they are near huge patches of Knotweed (which doesn't exist in many areas in the city) or maybe you haul them up to the mountains for Fireweed.  You could also steal honey and comb from other hives or get a couple 50lb bags of sugar and feed it as syrup over the next two months and hope they store enough for winter and also raise good winter bees.  However who says hobbies have to make money and if bees need saving then go for it.  If you are wondering where this is headed, read about my recent swarm adventure below in the hive notes.

Echinacea is now in bloom and a good nectar source.

A bumble is resting on this Dahlia flower.  Dahlia varieties with open petals can be good pollen and nectar sources.  Hint - if you can't see the pollen then the bees probably can't get to it or the nectar.

Caryopteris x clandonensis is another summer favorite that is a very popular nectar source.

Asters are in bloom and provide pollen and nectar.  A lot of the bright orange pollen coming is will be from asters.

Silk Tree (Albizia julibrissin)

Many gardeners are surprised when they hear that we don't have many late summer flowers blooming in this area.  Blooming bushes and trees make up a large portion of forage for city hives which many gardeners forget about when they think of flowers.  To counter this I encourage people to plant trees and shrubs with late summer blooms to help provide abundant food sources.  The Silk Tree is a good example of a late summer nectar source and can also be very appealing in the garden.  These trees can range from 15 to 30 feet tall and have wide arching branches with wide flat crowns.  The leaves are fern like that droop downwards at night and the wispy flowers have long silky treads that are white with pink or red colored tips.  Like many good honey bee food sources the trees can be invasive in some areas.  These trees can also be messy in fall and are also susceptible to several disease which can make them short lived, but fortunately they grow quickly.  They prefer full sun and produce nectar in the morning hours which is often why you won't see many pollinators on them in the afternoons.

"Black & Blue" Salvia (Salvia guaranitica) has attractive deep blue flowers and also a good nectar source.

Hive checks (7/20/2014)
Found the new queen and she is a little smaller but looked like she had mated.  I couldn't find any eggs or brood yet.  Part of that might be due to the fact that the hive is smaller and doesn't have many workers left.

The new queen.

Similar to the Solis hive the new queen in here looks mated.  The two queens look really similar so I'm going to have a hard time telling them apart in pictures.  I found some larvae laid in drone cells, but only eggs in worker cells so far.  Will have to check back in a week or so to determine how well she mated.

The look-a-like sister.

Hive checks (7/26/2014)
The queen looked a little bigger and finally has started laying.  There was a small patch of young brood and eggs in worker cells.  The hive is just a few frames of bees so I stole a couple frames of bee bread from the Luna hive to help them along.  Looking at my estimates this marks 22 days since I pulled the queen.  Assuming they made a queen from 1-2 day old larvae a queen would have emerged about 11 days later.  Seeing that I have probably 1-2 day old larvae now she would have started laying 4-5 days ago which means it took her 6-7 days to mate and start laying.  Perhaps I was a bit eager last inspection to hope for eggs/brood.

Looking a little more queen like now.

She is looking for places to lay which is always a good sign.

This queen also looked a little bigger and is about the same size as her sister and mother.  Overall they are all slightly smaller than what I typically see for queens.  Also because of their striped markings they are much harder to spot and blend in well with the workforce.

There are several newly capped drone cells (laid in drone sized cells) and she has now started laying in worker cells as well.  There were multiple frames with brood in worker sized cells coming and she has the majority of the work force so it doesn't surprise me they are jumping ahead of the Solis hive.  No worker brood capped just yet though which will tell me how well she actually mated.  What I find odd is that she started laying almost a week ahead of the other queen and was laying drone eggs initially.

This queen started laying drone eggs right away that are already capped.

Frame of bee bread that has been fermenting to break down the pollen to release nutrients.

They have built up really well and the queen has an excellent brood pattern.  She stubbornly lays out as many cells as the hive can support.  Hopefully they start to bring in stores because they don't have much to speak of at the moment.  They are even starting to raise drone brood.

Nice laying pattern.

The queen is looking good.

Despite the damage the queen is still using this comb.  A stronger hive would have fixed the holes first and it does make me worry that they are still focused on buildup and not winter preparations.

Plum Creek
They have several frames of brood on the way and a good amount of stores for winter.  I'm curious how much they will build up in the next month of it they will try to maintain their size.  As always they are still raising drone brood.

This is the mother queen for Luna and Solis.

The girls were in my face today telling me to go away, however they were not trying to sting.  As with the other two hives at this location there is a decent amount of brood coming.  They have stores but not enough for winter yet, and are using a good percentage of the hive for brood.  Hopefully they scale back from the buildup cycle and start prepping for winter rather than burning through the little reserve they have saved.  I suspect that this South facing, full sun, location is encouraging them to buildup more than I'm seeing at my other locations.  I curious to see how they winter here and buildup next spring.  I may have to watch for early spring swarming plans.

The queen looks good and has done a great job of building up.

Hive checks (7/27/2014)
The hive is full of comb and most of it is either bee bread or nectar/honey.  The nuc I introduced to the back of the hive was still the active broodnest area and the queen didn't have many options for expanding being behind multiple frames of honey.  I resorted the hive combs from the entrance so that there were a few frames of honey, bee bread, broodnest, bee bread and then most of the nectar/honey stores. The laying pattern looked good and they don't seem quite as reactive as the mother hive was. No signs of the DWV that was taking a heavy toll on this hive in the spring.

Nice laying pattern on this new queen.

She looks like her mother, perhaps slightly bigger.

Rosemary Nuc
The queen is aggressively laying brood to rebuild the hive.  The laying pattern looked really good as well and I expect them to buildup well.

She is doing well in the nuc.

Ballard Nuc
Saw signs of DWV on a few bees.  The queen is being conservative as usual in her laying to repopulate the hive.  I'm curious to see how they deal with the DWV now that they are in a nuc.  That seems to be an ongoing issue with this queen.  What I've seen is borderline hives like this don't prep for winter well and die out in November.  Hopefully the new daughter queen will work out better.

She is still going at her usual slow pace which is going to make fall survival risky.

Scriber Creek
The hive is full of comb and for the most part it's all in use.  There seemed to be a good amount of honey stores on each frame, but no full frames of honey stored anywhere yet.  The laying pattern looks good and the new daughters of this queen all look very light colored which seems to support my thoughts that this was a virgin queen.  They were very clam today and I could have easily worked them without any protection.

Nice laying pattern.

A big healthy queen.

Hive checks (7/28/2014)
Rosemary Split and Swarm
I split the Rosemary hive on the 13th and on the 28th rather than having a new queen killing her sisters I had a new queen that decided to be a pacifist and leave the hive in a tiny swarm.  Having already done a split the hive was depopulated and being that the nectar flow is now over I was surprised to discover that they would even try to swarm.

While I call the queen a pacifist for not wanting to kill her sisters the reality is that this wasn't a queen decision but rather the collective workers.  Maybe they aren't localized enough to know that we have a long dearth coming, or perhaps that genetic instinct has been washed out because beekeepers always step in to prop them up with late summer feeding efforts.  Another thought is that the heavy rains in the last week might have created a surge in plant nectar production that is misleading their instinct that a dearth is here.  Who knows, maybe they know something I don't and it's going to be a rainy August and flowers will be plentiful.  Maybe I should buy a lotto ticket.

The small swarm hiding in the branches.

The swarm was about 1.5 pounds and I hived them with some old comb, but have no idea how they would expect to build comb and fill it with stores this time of year.  Not to mention with a virgin queen still has to successfully mate. I will give them a few resources and see how they do in the next few weeks.  I'm curious to see how they fare and if the risk pays off.  I'll give them some honey and syrup to keep them alive to see if they can survive the winter.

After hiving the swarm I looked through the originating hive and found another queen running around killing the others and piping quite authoritatively.  There were a few queens cells in the process of emerging that had not yet been killed and I was able to cage them as a backup.  I had one fly off while I was trying to get her to go in a queen cage and I stood still watching her go up up and away into the air.  She never did come back and I held still waiting so she could orient to me.  Having not come from a hive I have no idea where she will end up but wouldn't be surprised if she tried to enter one of the queen right hives nearby, which would not end well for her.  However being that is was evening I also wouldn't be surprised if a bird found her before morning.

The new queen was running around piping.  She would momentarily stop on the comb and vibrate against it when she made the piping sound.  The rough pattern was about 15-20 seconds running and 1 second stop to pipe.  I did see her cautiously inspecting the outside of a queen cell with stinger ready to make sure no one was home.

Back to the bees,


Thursday, July 17, 2014

End of the Nectar Flow and Summer Brood Breaks

The main nectar flow is essentially over and most of the secondary minor blooms have wrapped up in downtown Seattle.  There is still food out there but it's no longer abundant and takes more energy to find and collect.  Hives are stubbornly switching to a more conservative approach to raising brood and have for the most part stopped building comb.  There is still nectar to come later in the year but that will vary from location to location whether or not the conditions are right to create a minor or secondary flow.  The biggest factor may be how aggressive the local weed control programs are at removal.

An upside to all the nice weather in June and July is that I'm seeing full frames of honey getting capped.  I usually don't get fully capped frames in top bars until September and sometimes they never cap the bottoms of frames going into winter and leave open nectar.

So now what?  Well now that the nectar flow is wrapping we are seeing the swarm risk fall and brood production is slowing down.  Whenever brood production slows there is a risk of disease outbreak which can drag a hive into collapse very quickly.  As a treatment free beekeeper one "treatment" that can help is to create brood break.  A brood break would mimic what would happen during the swarm process and can interrupt the disease cycle.  The other perk of a brood break is that you can generate new queens in the process.  Having new queens laying by the end of July is about as late as I want to go into the season.  A top bar hive will need to be ready for winter come mid August and if they don't have stores will need heavy feeding (which I also want to avoid).  By September hives will be raising winter bees and you want those bees to be as healthy as possible as they have to survive months instead of weeks and sugar syrup is not what I would recommend as an ideal food source to use to raise those bees.

Marsilea mutica provides a safe surface for bees to drink water on without falling into the water.

Privet is a great nectar source in late June and quite common around city neighborhoods.

A crimson colored Lilly in bloom.

An onion in bloom.

Delphinium is in bloom.

Salvia is a good nectar source.

Bee Balm is a good nectar source if there isn't a lot of competition from humming birds.

Globe Thistle is a great nectar source and very attractive to the girls.

When thinking about July and plants that do well here, one of my bee favorites is Oregano and not just because I'm Greek.  Derived from the Greek words oros (mountain) and ganos (joy) the name translates to "joy of the mountain" and is reflective of the carpet of purplish-white flowers it creates over hilly Mediterranean landscapes.  Even before the flowers open it gets attention from the girls in anticipation.  Oregano is a hardy plant in the lowlands can even grown as a perennial around the city and reproduces easily from seed, by root spreading or even cuttings.  In Europe Oregano might also go by the name Wild Marjoram and it has been used for centuries in cooking for it's spicy, sweet or astringent flavors. Oregano doesn't need much water and once established can grow just about anywhere with well drained soil and also does great in pots.  It usually starts blooming early July and can continue for the entire month.

Another non-native Tiger Lily favorite in bloom right now.  I rarely see the girls on these lilies actually.

Crocosmia 'Lucifer' in bloom and very popular with humming birds and bees.

Hive checks (6/25/2014)
Still no signs of brood.  Saw the queen and she was looking more queen like for her small size.  I decided to give her another week to see if she starts doing something.  Perhaps due to her small size it is taking longer for her to produce eggs.  Whether she mated is another question.

Here is the tiny queen.

Rebel daughter
The queen looked good and she had a frame of nicely capped worker brood.  She seems to be a little conservative on buildup.  The Rebel queen always seemed sensitive to when pollen was coming in and perhaps she is as well with the smaller work force of the nuc.

This queen is looking a lot better than her tiny sister.

The queen has been busy and there is a good amount of brood on the way.  They aren't building comb at the moment, but stores look good.

This queen looking good as always.

Hive checks (6/29/2014)
Pulled the queen with about 11 frames to make a nuc and relocated her to another site so she doesn't loose the foragers.  Gave the Luna hive 10 or so old empty frames from the Solis hive for them to clean up or fill with nectar/pollen.  My plan is to split the hive again in a week with each half getting queen cells.  The hive is mostly stores at the moment with about 20% brood.  They have cells with eggs and I'm confident they will make good emergency cells.

To dry honey many bees will get out of the hive and hang out around the door or under the roof.

Here's the busy queen.

They are maxing out the hive now and only two frames in the back are unused.  I noticed lots of cleaned cells ready for eggs, but the queen is pretty conservative and is only laying what she wants.  Other than that everything looked good.

Here's a good shot of a queen next to a drone for comparison.

Scriber Creek
I picked up this swarm 12 days ago and I'm just starting to see brood getting capped.  I suspect that she might have been a virgin queen based on the delayed start to laying eggs.  However she is making up for lost time and has laid eggs everywhere.

Those tiny white dots are eggs at the bottom of cells.  They are just starting to fall over so they are around day 2.

The brood pattern looks decent for just getting started.  4-5 days without laying eggs makes me lean in the direction of a newly mated queen vs. an existing queen.  I find that existing queens most of the time start laying as soon as there is comb.

She is another big queen.

This is the new name for the old Architect hive that a swarm moved into 10 days ago. Took my first look at these girls today and the queen has been busy.  I'd say the swarm was likely around 3 pounds and they have done a great job cleaning up the comb.  The queen is unmarked and easily the biggest queen I've seen in awhile.

Here's the new queen.  I wonder if she can fit into fully regressed cells to lay eggs.

So far so good on her brood pattern.

I had some old broken comb in the hive and the swarm fixed it up.  Notice that the new comb is all worker sized.

Hive checks (7/5/2014)
They cleaned up the empty comb I gave them and mostly filled it with nectar!  I found a few so-so queen cells and some huge ones.  I moved a few of the cells and resources to the Solis hive.  Hopefully both daughter queens emerge out and mate well.  It will be another week for the queens to ermerge and then a few days to mate and start laying.  It will likely be three weeks before I see capped brood in these hives again.

I don't usually get fully capped top bar frames like this until later in the year.

They have built up well and the queen has a good laying pattern.  There is a preference for laying in new comb and that is where I see the most solid laying pattern.  I see this preference for newer comb on my more hygienic queens.

This little swarm is making great progress to build up.  I'm not seeing much for stores coming in, but the old honey that was left seems to be helping them get a good start.  The laying pattern of the queen is looking good and the uncapped brood is looking well fed.

Nice buildup, but will they have time to bring in enough stores for winter?

Here is a shot of the queen.

Plum Creek
The old Luna Queen is in Plum Creek for the time being while we wait to see how her daughters perform.  I would like to try to overwinter her again this year because she has a nice balance of the qualities I'm looking for.  I didn't see the queen, but she has been busy laying and I suspect she was hiding in some cross comb in the back of the hive.  This group of hives will be good for at least two weeks before I need to inspect them again.

Hive checks (7/6/2014)
The hive has built up and seems to be stable at the moment.  No signs they want to swarm, but they also don't look like they are ready to start winding down for the season.  I am thinking I will move the queen into a nuc soon to help them along.  This will give them a brood break and help keep them from burning up all their stores.

No plans to swarm yet.

We finally have some capped brood however it's all drone, and ironically it was laid in worker cells right next to drone cells.  I suspected this might happen when I originally saw the tiny queen.  I pulled the queen and did a "newspaper combine" with the sister queen that was in the nuc.  I quoted that because in a top bar it's really just a follower board with some newspaper around the gaps to slow down the introduction, but we don't have a fancy top bar term for that.

Here is the tiny queen again.

She has been laying drone eggs in worker sized cells and the pattern is spotty.  You can see here that they have to extend the cells to accommodate for the larger drone larvae.

Rebel daughter
The nuc was looking really good with nice solid brood pattern over several frames.  Hopefully the combine goes smoothly and the hive takes off again.  The long brood break appears to have completely reset the DWV issues.  A plus would be if the workers of the new queen are nicer tempered.

They are crammed with bees and I don't have any empty bars to work with.  They are still being very stubborn about building comb or even finishing combs that are partially started.  They seemed a bit more runny today but no signs of swarming, and are making a lot of cups.  I suspect they might make a swarm attempt in a couple weeks.  I'm thinking they would benefit from a split as well.

Still a nice brood pattern in this hive.

Slow buildup and lots of queen cups but no plans to swarm yet.

Hive checks (7/12/2014)
Did a hive check and pulled the queen to make up a nuc.  No signs of swarming but I did see a few bees with signs of DWV.  I saw DWV in this hive during early spring and it cleared up as they built up.  Now that we are past the peak of the nectar flow it seems to be coming back.  Hopefully the brood break will give them a chance to reset.  If nothing else perhaps a new queen with reshuffled genetics will help.

Moving her to a new home.

Hive checks (7/13/2014)
Moved the queen in this hive to a nuc as well.  They have a good amount of nectar stored and the brood pattern is looking good.  Gave them some extra empty combs to fill out since they will have some time on their hands until the new queen arrives.

Like the Ballard queen she is also getting a new home while there is time left in the season for the original hive to mate a new queen.

Bearding happens when there is a need to cool the hive or dry honey and getting bodies out of the hive to hangout on "the porch" is an effective way to free up space for better airflow. 

Hive checks (7/14/2014)
Warm weather means that they don't need as many bees to keep brood warm and this queen wasn't shy to fill up all the frames she could find with brood.  The pattern looks good and the first wave of young bees have already started emerging out.  I got an interesting photo of multiple bees head first in cells cleaning them for the queen to put an egg in.  They also have drawn out the empty bar I gave them on last inspection.

The brood pattern is looking pretty good on this queen.

They have drawn out a beautiful new comb since the last inspection.

Here's that giant queen.

Look at all the nurse bees (head first in cells) cleaning the newly empty cells.  They are eager to buildup and for the queen to come back through and lay eggs in them.

Back to the bees,

- Jeff