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,


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