Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Smell of Hives in the Fall

Fall is here and I find myself reflecting on all the things I was going to do over summer that I never got around to.  This was an unusually hot and dry summer and it was challenging at times to suit up in full sun and do more than general hive inspection.  As a result didn't do all the queen breeding I was hoping to do.  On the plus side I did have a chance to put together a simple solar wax melter that melts wax beautifully.  I'll write up details in a future post.

Looking around the garden I'm seeing leaves starting to pile up and mushrooms popping up everywhere.  The hives are also starting to give off a familiar fall smell as they dry primarily ivy nectar.  I sometimes get asked what ivy nectar tastes like and it tastes just like it smells if you crush a leaf.  I find ivy to be a bit of a repulsive smell and I have found I need to limit how much time I spend pulling it out of the garden for removal projects.  Ivy honey also doesn't take long to crystallize so it's easy to spot and avoid.  I'm glad something finds it useful but if you have garden space there are much better fall blooming plants to plant.

This is also the time of year that hives are tested, especially if they are in the cities that have a high colony density that almost assures exposure to all the nasty stuff out there.  My hives all get 1-2 brood breaks a year and I generally don't simulate feed, which should mimic the opportunities that wild hives have for brood breaks.  When I see mites eating up a hive I think of them as wolves.  Nature has many ways to flush out weakness and mites are one of them.  I have hives that look beautiful, strong, and healthy and I have some that get sick.  Some genetic lines get sick every fall and still pull through, but in general once a hive gets sick it will crash.  Swarms are my biggest unknown and also my highest loss rates.  I could requeen with my stock, but I feel doing that limits the possibility of identifying new good genetic lines.  Instead I think of swarms as a test hive for the next year, and give them all the resources they need to survive winter.

I also never got around to posting last month so a few plants I took photos of are pretty much done blooming now as noted below.  

Caryopteris 'Dark Knight' is mostly done blooming now.  The bees love this one.

Dahlia flowers are still going strong, and a small Agapostemon bee has found this one.

Hardy Fuschia has been blooming all summer and loved by the humming birds.  The bees have only lately been attracted to it and this girl was collecting the white pollen.

Sedum is done blooming now.

English Ivy is in bloom and getting a lot of attention.

Seven Sons Tree (Heptacodium miconioides) is a late summer bloomer that is desirable to both bees and gardeners.  Flowers are fragrant and typically found in small clusters of 7, which gives us the common name.  After the white flowers fade a berry forms surround by deep red calyces that last late into the fall.  This tree also has attractive tender looking curled green leaves and exfoliating grayish bark.  Typically multiple trunks will sprout, but they can be pruned back to a single trunk allowing the tree to reach 15-20 feet tall.  These delicate looking trees are actually fairly hardy and can survive in a variety of garden conditions, however they do best in full sun with moderate soil moisture.  New plants can sometimes found in nurseries, or propagated by seeds or cuttings.

Impatiens omeiana is blooming.

Some Asters are still blooming.

Camellia sinensis (Tea) is blooming as well as many other members of the Camellia family.

Osmanthus fragrans is another great fall bloomer.

Hive checks (8/24/2015)
They have been very conservative in growth, however they have good numbers and bees deeply cover all the frames.  They also have good stores and a nice brood pattern.  The hive looked clean and no signs of disease.  Saw a few drones as well.

The queen looks good.

Nice brood pattern.

Hive checks (8/28/2015)
Queen Castle Slot 4 and Slot 2
I moved them into a double nuc for winter.  Didn't inspect closely, but saw nice patches of brood in both colonies.  Saw the queen in Slot 2 and she looked good.

This is a robust queen.

Nice brood pattern.

Queen Castle Slot 1
I moved them to a new location and put them in the old Icon hive.  They had a few frames of brood as well, but looked like they were low on stores.  They will take a hit losing some workers to Slot 2 that were left behind on on the sides of the walls of the queen castle.  This is the "mean" queen that is a machine when it comes to raising a LOT of brood when she wants to, and I'm curious to see how they build up with ivy and knotweed starting to bloom.

Hive checks (9/9/2015)
Broodnest was not very tight and there were 2-3 bees with DWV.  The queen looked good, but was not seeing much nectar/pollen coming in.

Things actually looked good minus the fact that they are still a small cluster.

Double Nuc
South - The south side was acting slightly defensive and didn't inspect, but gave them an extra empty comb to maybe fill.
North - They were building comb!  Didn't inspect either and gave them an empty comb to work with.

Hive checks (9/19/2015)
Did a cleanup inspection to fix cross comb.  They have done a good job of holding onto their honey stores.  Didn't make it to the broodnest area, but fixed the worst of the cross comb.

Same inspection as the Echo hive actually, spent all the time fixing issues and didn't get into the broodnest.  I'll harvest the junk frames from both hives I don't want them to reuse next year and those have mostly been moved to the back now.  I needed to be in and out without causing robbing otherwise I would have went through the entire hive.

Hive checks (9/26/2015)
The hive is in great shape for winter and they have lots of young healthy bees and I even saw a few drones.  They have good stores and the broodnest didn't show any signs of disease.  I would have liked to see more pollen reserves, which I'm sure will change with the return of more rain and flowers.

There are some mites in this hive as seen on the worker bee in this photo.

Typical of this queen line I found DWV and signs of mites which is typical for them in the fall.  I've come to expect this problem with this genetic line and sometimes they make it and sometimes they don't.  They have good honey reserves and a good population of workers.  I've kept them around in hopes to breed more resistance into them, but did not raise queens from them this year like I have in the past.

This is a new young queen and I'm optimistic they will pull through.

Plum Creek
They are in good shape for the winter.  I was hoping they would have built up more, but it's been a tough summer.

The queen is still looking huge.

I was happy to see that all the frames that used to be stored pollen from summer have turned into honey stores.  They are being slow to cap honey though.  The queen is still going strong and the broodnest is still about the size of two basketballs.  There is a little surplus pollen, but not much.  I also saw drones in this hive.

Another good looking queen.  This line of bees was treatment free.

They were a tad pissy (I suppose that's an improvement) and didn't want me in the hive.  The broodnest looked good and it looked like they might be trying to build comb.  There is a lot of brood on the way for this small hive.

Another young, stubborn queen that keeps going.

They have a nice pollen arch on this frame for the brood they are raising.

Found DWV, mites and some melted brood.  This was a swarm from a beekeeper that treats and I suspect they don't have any natural resistances.  There are a good number of bees and they weren't happy to have me around.  Yellow jackets are bad at this location and I closed down the entrances on all the hives.

Hive checks (9/27/2015)
Loyal Heights Nuc
Wow this girls get more pissy every time I look at them.  I requeened over summer in hopes that they would calm down and they are just as bad as ever.  I'm starting to wonder if they raised a queen from the old mother brood and killed the queen I put in there.  Either way they are in great shape for winter and the bees are two levels deep on the combs.  The broodnest looked good and there were no signs of disease.  They are light on stores.

Split Nuc
Side A
The broodnest was looking good and no signs of disease.  They were building comb, but also looked light on stores.

Side B
They are light on stores.  They are raising a good amount of brood, and no signs of disease.

Hive checks  (10/4/2015)
Signs of DWV and the queen seemed weak.  There are a good number of bees in this hive and didn't see melted brood so perhaps they might pull through.

They were looking great and no signs of disease.  Nice tight broodnest and signs they are ready for winter.

They were looking great and no signs of disease.  Nice laying pattern and showing carniolan winter tendencies with a smaller colony size.  They also had a pollen surplus and several frames of capped honey which is pretty good for a swarm.

Queen is looking good.

The broodnest is still looking good in this hive.

Back to the bees.

- Jeff

Friday, August 14, 2015

Endless Summer Fries Seattle Forage

For the most part foliage around the Puget Sound has mostly shriveled up with the lack of rain this summer.  We've already had more 90F+ days on record than ever and it's early August.  This is a very unusual summer with trees and shrubs going dormant early or in some cases dying.  There are a few sources producing flowers but unless there is a reliable water source they aren't making much nectar/pollen. The only sliver lining of being in the city is that people water their yards/gardens and that does keep a few things going.

Besides keeping a close eye on hives to make sure they aren't starving, this is also the time of year that disease can take hold.  This is in part due to increasing mite population levels and the slowed brood rearing rates.  The treatment free way to address this is to create a brood break so that hives can "reset" and raise healthy winter bees.  If disease takes hold over the next 6 weeks hives won't be able to raise healthy winter bees and will die.

Many beekeepers miss these signs and end up pinning the cause of hive death on yellow jackets, queen failure, or starvation.  So if disease is happening NOW, here are a few scenarios that might play out:
  • Disease will hit fast and kill the hive by the end of September.  You will find a queen running around with eggs in cells but insufficient bees to support her.  There might be some patches of capped dead brood from rapid brood-nest collapse. You may see PMS as well if you look early enough before things start to mold. 
  • Same as the above except yellow jackets will sweep in and clean up the hive with no resistance.  You find an empty hive with a few dead bees and probably yellow jackets.
  • Disease kicks in and the queen also gets sick and dies.  They are unable to raise a healthy new emergency queen with the high disease levels in the brood and lack of nurse bees.  They become a laying worker hive and die out early winter.
  • Same as the above except the yellow jackets clean up the doomed hive when they don't have enough workers to defend it anymore.
  • The hive will battle and overcome the disease.  However they will not have raised enough healthy winter bees.  They will go into fall with what looks like a good sized cluster, and then as summer bees die will be left with a tiny cluster.  The first freeze will take them out and it may look like starvation.  It will look like small moldy cluster if you find them in early spring.
  • An alternative of the above is that they go into winter still trying to raise a lot of winter bees, but can't keep all the brood warm in the cooler weather with so many summer bees dying and the hive collapses.
  • The hive manages to make it through several freezes but the cluster size isn't viable for them to ever build up in spring.
Basically there are many ways this can play out and I don't want to say that yellow jackets aren't a menace, especially with queen rearing and nucs, but the point I'm making is that I see them getting a lot more credit than they deserve.  I believe strong healthy hives can usually protect themselves from yellow jackets.  While starvation is another very real concern, it also gets blamed as the cause of death when it can also just be a symptom of an underlying disease.  Addressing issues now is the single most important thing you can do to get your hives through winter.

Hebe is blooming.  This variety is a late summer bloomer and a huge bee magnet.

Catananche caerulea is in bloom.

Fennel is in bloom and attracting all kinds of pollinators.

Salvia guaranitica 'Black and Blue' is in bloom.  I watched this poor bee struggle to wedge herself into flower after flower trying to get down deep enough to reach the nectar.  It's hard to say how successful she was.

Toad Lilly is blooming.

Globe Thistle (Echinops ritro)

This mid-summer flower will have bees falling over themselves to work, and it is not uncommon to see multiple types of bees, and butterflies working a single flower head in harmony.  Globe Thistle has spiked looking spherical blue/indigo flowers that are "hedgehog like" or Echinos in Greek.  While the common name says thistle this plant is actually in the aster family, and it's leaves do not have any spines that you would expect from a thistle.  However because the leaves are rough looking with deep cuts, and green on top with undersides that are slightly hairy and sliver green they can appear to resemble thistles.  This perennial is low maintenance, drought tolerant, and likes well drained soil which makes it well suited for local gardens.  Plant in full sun and water regularly to initially to establish plants.  New plants can be started from seed or root cuttings, while mature plants can be fussy when moved and do best when foliage is only cut back in spring.

Oregano is in bloom.

Butterfly bush is in bloom.  I've never noticed it to be a huge honey bee attractant.

Silk Tree (Albizia julibrissin) is finishing up it's bloom cycle.

Bee Balm (Monarda) is in bloom.

Russian Sage is mostly done blooming now.

American Chestnut was blooming early July this year.

Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ just finished blooming.

Lilies are blooming.

Ginger is blooming.

Fireweed is in bloom.

Hive checks (7/11/2015)
The hive was very calm and was showing signs that the nectar flow was over.  They have several frames of capped honey and have started condensing the broodnest.  They built out the three bars I gave them a couple weeks ago, but I didn't add more as it looks like they are scaling back to deal with the dry weather.

The well liked queen.

Much like the Luna hive they were also in good shape and the queen has a good laying pattern.  I saw a few newly emerged worker bees as well from the new queen.  This hive was giving off a more floral scent than the Luna hive which was smelling more like Chestnut honey.

Nice patches of brood.

Good looking queen.

Hive checks (7/12/2015)
Queen Castle - Slot 4
If you are following my notes closely I never noted that I put bees in here when I did the join with the Loyal Heights Nuc and the Queen from Slot 3.  I originally broke that Loyal Heights Nuc into 4 parts, but actually ended up pulling another two frames out of it to make room for the merge that I had planned to use to raise new queens from one of my other hives (that I haven't had a chance to do yet).  Despite the fact I just threw a couple frames of bees in here they managed to make a new queen and she looks great.  I also found a nice area of 5-7 day old larvae.  Maybe she won't be pissy like her mother.  In general it's not a good idea to let little nucs make queens but these girls pulled it off.

Nice looking new queen.

The hive looks good.  The queen is scaling back and they have great honey stores for a smaller sized hive going into blackberries.  They have some pollen reserves.

The queen is looking good.

Nice frame of capped honey.

Queen Castle - Slot 2
They've filled up the space and are running out of room.  Things look really good.

Good looking queen.

Queen Castle - Slot 1
Still pissy, but the queen is a workhorse when it comes to laying and they are building comb.  They don't have much in the way of stores.  I will eventually replace this queen for calmer genetics.

Another great looking frame of brood makes it hard to get rid of this queen.

Her evil majesty.

Loyal Heights Nuc
There are still some pissy bees in here, but overall they are MUCH calmer.  The queen has been busy and the hive is full of bees again.

The queen is getting used to her new home.

Attis Nuc
I found a single nurse bee with DWV, otherwise it looks like the new queen has cleared up the issue.  They don't have much honey stored so I will need to keep an eye on them to see how they fare over the next few months.  The bees are very calm in this hive.

The queen looks good.

Hive checks (7/13/2015)
Plum Creek
They looked good and are still building up.  They have a little honey stored.  The queen looked good.

She's a big queen.

Not a lot of extra honey, but LOTS of pollen of many colors.  It seems that they got a gene that prefers to hoard pollen over honey. The queen had also laid out the hive with brood and they are about to explode in numbers (not that they are small by any means already).  Like the nucs, the queen looked big and ready to lay a lot of eggs.  What I've been noticing in the mature hives is the queens have slimmed down a bit as they cut back.

I'm not really sure what to make of them since they seem to be out of alignment with the seasons.  On the one hand I like that they work a variety of floral sources, and on the other they are raising a lot of brood going into a dearth and they didn't store enough honey.  I fear that they could easily starve themselves planning for a nectar flow that isn't coming.

Lots of colorful pollen.

The queen is looking good.

They started to tear up their frame and then they changed their mind and started using it for worker brood.  You can see it used to be drone brood and there are still a few holes left.

Nice frame of brood on the way.

Took measurements of new brood comb they built and it measured in at 5.3mm.  This is quite a bit bigger than I would expect for a regressed hive to build.

The hive is full of bees and I was happy to find that they scaled back on the brace comb a bit (still more than I would like but better).  There is a LOT of honey in here that they are drying.  They also had a lot of burgundy pollen and a good amount of brood.  Rearranged a few frames to help condense the broodnest and gave away one frame to Plum Creek to make a little more room.  The broodnest in this hive is about halfway back in the hive with the front frames being pollen, nectar, and honey which is a little unusual.  This is a hot/sunny location so perhaps it's easier to keep the back of the hive cooler.

Nice frame of brood.

The queen is looking good.

Hive checks (7/14/2015)
There was some bad cross comb that I couldn't completely fix and only got halfway through the inspection before stopping as not to upset them too much.  I did see the queen, larvae, and eggs, but my guess is most of the broodnest is in the front of the hive.  There is a good amount of honey in the hive but it was spread out all over and there were very few full frames.

This queen has been going for at least 3 years.

Hive checks (8/8/2015)
The good news is there was no sign of DWV or disease and the hive was calm.  I didn't find any drones.  The broodnest had a nice solid pattern but was small and only covering a few frames.  They also have poor stores of honey and pollen.

This queen is not very robust.

This hive is doing well and all the frames had nice looking pollen and honey arches.  She has a nice laying pattern as well and they were calm.  No signs of disease and lots of young bees which is great because that was an issue for this hive before swapping out the queen.  Honey stores are spread out over many frames.  Only saw a few drones but they are raising more.

The queen is looking good.

Found a pile of dead bees on the ground in front of the entrance that mostly looked like drones.  I saw an occasional drone in the hive, but there weren't many.  They were also calm and there were lots of young healthy bees with a solid brood pattern.  There is honey, but they aren't capping it yet.

This could be a sign of good hygienic traits in response to illness, that they are conservative/sensitive to food shortages, or a warning that they aren't able to raise healthy drones.  Most of these drones looked like they were pulled from brood cells.  I didn't see signs of disease on them and suspect they pulled them in response to the dearth.

The queen is looking good and they have brood over many frames.

Back to the bees,

- Jeff