Sunday, November 30, 2014

Winter Storms Have Arrived

Winter storms are here and we have just started our second below freezing cold spell for the year.  If hives aren't setup with food near the cluster these long cold spells can quickly starve them.  The tricky part about overwintering in the Puget Sound area is we bounce around during winter from warm to cold weeks.  This means they are burning more energy looking for forage on warm days and they are also breaking up the cluster.  Studies have shown bees do better when they have a consistent cold that keeps them inside most of the winter with an occasional nice day to do cleansing flights.  On the plus side these long cold spells are also good for finishing off other pests like the yellow jackets that don't have a food reserve to keep them going.

Snow on the Aster stems.

A good roof should keep the hive body dry.  Another perk to the top bar hive is that we would need about 4 feet of snow before it would be high enough to start blocking the entrances.

Winter blooming Camellia provides pollen.

False holly (Osmanthus heterophyllus) is a good mid November bloomer.

With a few warm days we've seen some Dandelions come back into bloom.

This Fennel plant is putting out blooms a bit late in the season.

Hive checks (11/8/2014)
Rebel Daughter
The brood diseases I saw last inspection have killed them.  I split up the resources between the Roma and Ballard Daughter hive.  This hive and queen line had struggled every year just to survive.

Every year I find a few overwintering yellow jacket queens.  Usually they are under the hive roofs in living hives.  In spring they will wake up and start new colonies assuming nothing squishes or eats them.  

If you see brood like this in your dead-out, your hive was sick.

Ballard Daughter
I checked a few frames in the cluster and they still have a good amount of brood coming and also saw larvae.  There are a good number of bees in this hive, and I was surprised to see this conservative hive still raising brood.

Brood in November.

They are still holding on, an I didn't look much past the last frame they were clustered on.  Moved the best honey frames from the Rebel Daughter hive next to the cluster.

They looked like they were doing good and have gotten ahead of the brood diseases.  They appear to have a good setup for winter and the hive is now full of comb they inherited from the Luna hive.  Now the question is whether they have enough bees to keep the cluster warm during storms.

An Assassin bug hiding under the cover.  I've been seeing these around everywhere this year.

I was surprised to see them already gone.  I knew they were sick, but they had a lot of bees and I was thinking they would make it a little later into winter.

They didn't make it and the hive was getting robbed.  Brood disease took them out quickly.

Plum Creek
They weren't able to recover form the brood disease either and were gone.  The queen was oddly still alive, but she was alone minus a few robbers and yellow jackets.  I stuck her in a cage and she's on my desk at the moment.  There isn't anything I can do with her unless I stumble across queenless hive in the next day or so which is not likely to happen since I don't plan to inspect anyone else right now.

They appear to have gotten ahead of the brood disease and had a good number of bees.  Didn't inspect further than the last frames and they were robbing out the other hives.  The hive is now full of the excess honey frames from both Plum Creek and Quickdraw.

Hive checks (11/27/2014)
Saw robbing activity between the Ballard daughter and Roma hives, but didn't inspect with the weather changing.  I suspect the Roma hive either died during the last cold spell or is too weak to stop robbing.

Back to the bees,

- Jeff

Monday, November 3, 2014

Halloween Brings Gloomy Weather to the Apiary

Up until a week ago we still has some summer flowers blooming and now after being soaked with several inches of rain there is hardly any sign of them left.  With the recent weather change I think it is safe to say summer is officially gone and the hives aren't going to get too many good foraging days again until March.  Hives are still raising brood and have managed to build up good stores of honey and pollen for the winter.  The surplus pollen doesn't keep forever like honey, but will last a few months and will help fuel winter brood production giving hives a head start on spring buildup.  I typically see brood production until mid-November in hives.  However we don't have enough warm sunny days between late Nov and Mid-Jan that I can get in enough inspections to definitively say when (or if) brood production ever completely shuts down.

There was interest in keeping bees treatment free at the meeting this month and I wanted to reiterate a few important points related to getting started (based on my opinions) that help to make some people successful when others might fail:
  • You should start with bees that are adapted to the local climate.  Local bees will in general outperform bees imported from somewhere else and will respond quicker to the season changes to build up and will overwinter better.
  • In addition to locally adapted bees you want to get genetics from lines that have been kept treatment free if at all possible.
  • Avoid using wax foundation that retains chemical residue. Let them build comb and allow them to regress the cell size.  The thought here is that smaller bees reach adulthood faster which may give them an advantage.  Also there is a lot of research yet to be done on the overall micro-flora of the hive and clean wax will provide a better foundation for this to develop like it would in nature.
  • Having an semi-remote apiary, which is not possible in an urban environments.  I have found that there are on average 50-75 other beekeepers within a mile radius anywhere in the Seattle city limits.  With so many people importing bees every year this creates a wave of foreign drones which can and will wash out any localized genetics you have with each queen mating. 
  • Luck.  You can't plan for this.  Perhaps this means you luck out with a great genetic line.  Or perhaps this means your bees don't get exposed to a pest or disease and ultimately do very well for awhile.  It may take you awhile to realize which kind of luck you have.
The take away here is that there are a lot of variables with going treatment free and some of them exist outside of your control, especially in an urban area.  To be successful it is necessary to work with other beekeepers to achieve common goals knowing that it may take several years to identify good genetic lines.  Simply applying treatment free approaches to the CA package you purchased is not likely to yield rewarding results in the long run.  With that said local queens are next to impossible to find in spring so you will likely need to start with a non-local package with plans to re-queen as soon as local queens are available in summer.

Chrysanthemum "Hillside Sheffield" is a good pollen and nectar source.  Finding bee friendly mum's is a challenge in a market saturated with all-petal varieties.

English Ivy is a plentiful fall food source around the city and offers pollen, nectar, and an unmistakable musky scent.

Rosemary blooms pretty much all year round if in a sunny location and is a good nectar source.

Hardy Impatiens (Impatiens omeiana) is another nectar source.

Tea (Camellia sinensis) is in bloom and a good pollen source.

Viburnum tinus "Laurustinus" is an evergreen shrub native to the Mediterranean with a long winter blooming period that starts in November and can last until late spring.  They produce slightly fragrant clusters of white and light pink flowers that stand out against their dark glossy green leaves.  These shrubs are fairly versatile and bloom best when given a sunny or partially sunny location with regular watering.  When plants become established they can even show drought tolerance qualities during our long dry summers.  They need minimal pruning to maintain shape over time and can be a good pick for low maintenance hedges.  Their shiny dark blue berries are a food source that attracts birds and other wildlife.

Viburnum tinus is a winter food source.

Seven-Sons-Tree (Heptacodium miconioides) is an early fall bloomer and buzzing with bees.

A few Dahlias are still hanging on.

Choisya ternata is actually a spring bloomer, however it's pretty common around the city to see them putting out a few flowers in early November.

I think this one is a Chrysanthemum "Redwing" and it's another good option for bees.

Fatsia japonica is a nice evergreen shrub with large maple tree sized leaves that does surprisingly well here in the Puget Sound.  They are just starting to come into bloom and are a good pollen and nectar source.

Toad Lily (Tricyrtis) is a nectar source.

Asters are still providing pollen and nectar.

Hardy Fuchsia (Fuchsia magellanica) is a nectar source.

Hive checks (10/11/2014)
Moved the Ballard and Rosemary Nucs to the p-patch about 5 blocks away.  I put grass in the entrance holes to help them reorient, to prevent loosing too many foragers back to the old location.

Watching the next day it looked like a few foragers still came back to the old location circled around and joined with the Scriber Creek hive that was the closest hive to where their hives used to be.  Both hives had a good number of bees so loosing a few hopefully shouldn't put them back too much.

Their new home.

Hive checks (10/12/2014)
Overall the hive looked pretty clean and they were trying to be very hygienic.  I did see some varroa and signs of DWV.  I also noticed a varroa running over the queen (yuck) and got a picture before they cleaned it off of her.  That's never a good sign.  The hive has done a great job building up stores of honey and pollen from running lean all summer.  Noticed some crystallized honey as well that is likely ivy.

This is a nice looking frame of brood.

Another good looking frame of brood at the edge of the broodnest.

Hard to see but a varroa mite is running over this queen.  

Here is a good shot of the nectar crystallizing before they have a chance to even cap it.  I suspect this is ivy nectar.

Plum Creek
I was surprised to see DWV in this hive and it looks like they are struggling with it a bit.  This is a hive that pulled out of a bad DWV outbreak last fall and then did wonderful all spring and summer. Seeing how both the child hives are also fighting DWV. I'm thinking that perhaps the genetic line just isn't quite got what it takes.  The hive has good stores of honey and pollen.  Closed them down to one entrance hole.

The queen is still trying to pull them out of it, but you can see a few varroa on worker bees in this photo.

Like the other two hives this hive is also dealing with DWV.  Their population has dropped off significantly from what it was at last inspection.  Decent stores of honey and good stores of pollen.  Closed them down to one entrance hole.  Like the other hives I was seeing good hygienic behavior in the hive.

Lots of pollen stored to use in late winter.

Hive checks (10/19/2014)
There are a good number of bees in this hive and they have good stores of pollen and honey saved up.  They are still dealing with DWV and the brood nest is just a small area on a few frames.

You can see a bee in this photo with a varroa on it.  

Rebel Daughter
There are just a few frames of bees left in this hive and it doesn't appear they were able to get ahead of the DWV issues.  The bees that are left all look healthy, but the cluster just isn't going to be big enough to survive a winter storm.  I've been nursing this line of queens along for several years and perhaps it's for the best.  They were never much fun to inspect being so aggressive and have never produced a surplus of honey.

Back to the bees,

- Jeff