Friday, February 27, 2015

A Seasonal Malfunction

Last year spring was a little early.  This year we seemed to have missed the end of winter all together and are now experiencing spring conditions.  Not only are the usual late winter flowers in bloom but we also have a slew of things that are blooming a month or more early.  There are blooms everywhere and food is plentiful if the hives can get to it.  Daytime temps are in the 50s with nighttime temperatures in the high 30s to low 40s which is the only thing holding back an explosive hive buildup.

As for whether this warm weather is a good or bad thing for the bees is hard to say.  On the plus size they are building up faster.  On the down side we could end up having a longer and drier summer than last year.  I also worry that warm weather will allow for predators to get an earlier start as well and having already seen a few yellow jackets around that's not a good thing.  There is also a real concern that we will get a storm that will cutoff the hives food supply for a few days.  Hives are using about a 100% of what they are bringing in to raise brood and don't keep much of a reserve for bad weather.

Rosemary is always attracting the girls.

Euphorbia characias 'Wulfenii' is a another food source.

 Magnolia stellata 'Royal Star' are just coming into bloom.

Plums are in full bloom right now and a good food source.

 Oxalis Oregana is in bloom right now.

Cornelian cherry is already in bloom.

Here's a picture of both Hazelnut catkins and blooms (tiny purple flower) that are open right now.

 Daphne x transatlantica 'Eternal Fragrance' is in bloom.

 Most Magnolia trees are usually further behind the Star Magnolia, but this year they are almost ready to pop.

Crocus blooms appearing at the end of winter are a sign that spring is on the way and are an excellent pollen food source.  They are easy to grow and like well drained soils that get a good amount of sunlight.  If you are relaxed about your lawn care, Crocus can even be naturalized into yards for a splash of early spring color.  Crocus come in a variety of colors and they bloom from fall to spring.  If you are a fan of saffron, it is made from the dried stigmas of the fall blooming Crocus sativus.  Unlike bulb flowers the Crocus corms gets completely absorbed into the flower and leaves during the bloom cycle and then will make new corms as the plant goes dormant again, so be careful not to destroy the plant during the growing cycle.

Evergreen clematis is in bloom.

Spring Hebe are coming into bloom.

Daffodil are in bloom.

Lonicera fragrantissima is in bloom.  It didn't even loose it's leaves this year.

Oregon Grape is starting to bloom.

Scilla siberica is coming up with it's elusive blue pollen.

Red maples are in bloom.

Indian Plum is usually one of our earliest blooming natives.

Quince are in bloom.

Hive checks (2/8/2015)
It was supposed to be raining today, but we had a "bright sky" break this morning (I'd say sun break, but there was a high layer of clouds filtering it) and temps were around 55F.

I saw some eggs in the center of cells, but I suspect this is the work of a laying worker at this point.  No signs of a queen present.

Rosemary daughter
There are several frames of bees and I did not see the queen or signs of the queen.

Ballard daughter
I saw some drones flying from this hive.  The broodnest is now covering 10 frames.  I wanted to take a peak at this hive to see if anything had happened with that supersedure cell I saw last inspection and I was pleasantly surprised to see it not capped.  Taking a close look it also appeared to be empty this time.  I did notice some work on queen cups around the frames, but I'm not seeing any white comb or a nectar excess yet.  However with the way this season is going we could have an early maple flow in March and they may try to use that window to swarm so I will need to keep an eye on things.

The queen looks good and has a nice following of nurse bees.

Brood nest.

New bees are emerging.

Hive checks (2/9/2015)
Ballard Nuc & Rosemary daughter
Combined these hives together.  The Ballard queen had a small patch of brood, which should be very appealing to the queenless Rosemary hive.  I'm not too worried about this combine as this is a fairly common way to get a queenless hive (without laying workers) queen right again.

Small brood nest.

Hive checks (2/10/2015)
Solis & Rose Nuc
Combined these hives together.  The Solis hive had a small patch of brood which was good to see.  There weren't many bees in the Rose Nuc, but their addition doubles the population of the Solis hive.  Having been queenless they should take to the new queen since laying workers hadn't started up yet.

Another small brood nest.

Hive checks (2/16/2015)
Quick peak at entrance activity and saw a few foragers coming back with pollen.  Can't say much more without looking inside, but based on my previous observations they have a long road ahead to rebuild their numbers.

Hive checks (2/21/2015)
Rosemary-Ballard Hive
The queen looked good and the broodnest was larger.  I moved several frames of honey from the back of the hive forward because the front frames were empty and they looked like they needed more food close by.

The broodnest has grown, but stores are looking low.

The queen looks good.

Back to the bees,

- Jeff

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Indications Of An Early Buildup Due To Mild Winter

Winter has been mild this year!  I've been able to open and inspect hives on nice days several times this year when typically I would be lucky to get a peak before mid March.  Looking at my flower photos you might think Seattle is a tropical oasis at the moment, especially if you are under a blanket of snow!  However it's not spring... yet, but we do have some late winter blooming plants that are moving full steam ahead.  I also have seen some late fall plants that should have shut down with winter that are still going.  This means a good amount of pollen and nectar is available for hives to use for buildup.  The worry now would be a winter storm cutting off that food supply for more than a couple days and a hive dying because it had over extended it's resources.

Crocus are coming up and are great pollen sources.

Camellia's are still going strong and the late winter varieties are starting to pop.

Winter Heather is going strong and a good nectar source.

Snowdrop (Galanthus) is coming up.

Bergenia cordifolia seems to bloom whenever the weather is mild.

I came across a whole hedge of English Ivy in bloom the other day.  You can see some older blooms that are fruiting but new blooms should have wrapped up last fall.

Vinca minor is starting to bloom.

Hazelnut catkins (three long parts) and flower (tiny bud coming off the branch with a touch of pink at the tip) are getting close to blooming.

Dandelions didn't take much of a break this year and are already coming back into bloom.

Iris Reticulata is coming up.

Mushrooms are everywhere right now. I don't see bees on the mushroom bodies, but have read that they do collect the mycelium, which would explain cases where I have seen them in soil.

Jasminum nudiflorum is almost finished blooming.

Garrya elliptica (Coast Silk-tassel) have impressive catkins right now offering up polling and nectar.

Helleborus are in bloom and a good pollen source.

Daphne odora is starting to bloom.

Collard blooms are a great food source.

Viburnum tinus (Laurustinus) is still going strong. They have been blooming all winter.

Witch Hazel (Hamamelis) includes several different species that are native to Eastern North America, China, and Japan ranging in colors from yellow to red that bloom during winter on bare branches after the leaves have fallen.  Looking around our northwest gardens the species we typically find are from Japan (H. japonica) and China (H. mollis) or crosses between the two.  The American species start blooming in late fall between October and December, and the Asian species typically bloom between January and March.  They start blooming while the previous years seeds are still on the branches and thus get the Latin name hamamelis which means "together with fruit".  The seed pods contain two black seeds and will pop when mature throwing the seeds a short distance away.  When not showing off their impressive winter blooms, they have attractive soft green leaves in summer.  They need to be planted in a sunny or mostly sunny spot that has fertile soil, and will also need regular watering during dry summer months.

Rosemary is still going and loved by the girls.

Sarcococca ruscifolia flowers might not be noticed, but their vanilla scent is hard to miss.

Hive checks (1/6/2015)
Today was around 53F and did visual entrance activity checks on the hives.
  • Rose, Rosemary Daughter, Ballard Daughter, Rosemary, Solis and Dyno all had entrance activity. 
  • The Ballard hive didn't have any activity but did have a robber or guard bee hanging around the entrance. 
Hive checks (1/19/2015)
The weather was so-so today and a few bees where flying from Rose, Rosemary Daughter, Ballard Daughter, Rosemary hives.
  • There was no activity in the Ballard hive, so I pulled the back frame and there they were, and sadly they weren't equally as happy to see me. I pulled the last frame of comb (empty) out and replaced it with a frame of honey and added a cup or so of dry sugar in the back. Usually they are like kittens during inspections so I'm second guessing that something is wrong other than they really didn't want to see me today. Perhaps it's a lack of food or maybe the queen is dead. Will need to wait for a bit nicer weather to investigate further and for now I know they have food and hope they have a queen. 
  • Rosemary hive also got a frame of honey. They had an empty bar in the back so there was room for another comb of honey. Rather than putting it in the very back placement I moved it one frame in (there was still honey on that frame, but not the back side. This way they will be able to cluster around the new frame if they should need it, although the cluster looked to be covering several frames forward. 
Hive checks (1/25/2015)
The sun was out today and temps were over 60F!

There are several frames of bees and they have a good amount of stores left.  I did not see the queen or signs of the queen.

Rosemary daughter
Same situation as the sister in the Rose Nuc.  There are several frames of bees and they have a good amount of stores left.  I did not see the queen or signs of the queen.

Ballard daughter
This hive is not typical of what I usually see for overwintering behavior.  Brood production never shutdown and they are using over half the hive.  I would also think that a big hive like this would burn through resources and starve, but to the contrary they actually have good stores.  Not only do they have stores, but they have either uncapped honey or fresh nectar in the brood area.  There is also a little surplus pollen being stored, but mostly anything that comes in is getting used for brood production.

The broodnest extends over 5 frames and is at least double the size it was when I inspected in early December.  The brood nest starts 6 frames in from the entrance.  One concerning issue I saw is that they have what looks to be a supersedure cell on a frame.  The angle of the cell made it very difficult to see into it to determine if there was anything in there besides royal jelly and sadly the photos I did get only add to the uncertainty, but I doubt they would waste royal jelly on an empty cell this time of year.  I saw a few drones in the hive, but I doubt there would be many other hives around with drones for mating.  However if you need a new queen, then you have to try.  Fortunately the old queen is still going, so they likely wont get rid of her until she gives out or they have confirmed the new queen is laying well. 

Supersedure cell with royal jelly.

Here is the queen.  She looks good, but they think something could be wrong.  Maybe 5 frames of brood isn't good enough?!

Lots of pollen coming in.

More pollen.

There were 5 frames of brood like this.  Most hives have small patches if anything.

I like to think I know what my queens look like, however when I saw the queen in this hive I was thinking, who are you.  While she doesn't look all that dissimilar from the photos I have I am still left feeling like this might be a late fall supersedure queen.  I last saw the queen in here on my 10/4/2014 inspection.

There were hardly any stores left in the hive and I have them several frames of honey on each side of the broodnest.  There was a tiny patch of brood and many cells with eggs in them.  There aren't a lot of bees left in this hive but they are trying.

Hard to see but there is a little royal jelly and little larvae in this patch of cells.

Here is the queen.

This nuc is full of bees and they looked to be in good shape.  They have good stores and the broodnest covers 3 frames.

The queen looks good.

Small patch of brood.

They are alive but struggling. I cleaned a lot of dead off the bottom of the hive.  Didn't see much of a brood area but did see the queen.  They have a few frames of bees and good stores. Bottom of the hive was damp and opened another ventilation hole.  This hive is in a damp location in general.

The queen and several cells of crystallized nectar.

Saw the queen and a small patch of eggs.  They have a few frames of bees and have plenty of stores.  Lots of dead bees on the bottom of this hive as well that I cleaned out.  Sadly I also saw a small yellow jacket trying to get in!

The queen was being photo shy, but she has a tiny cluster with eggs.

Back to the bees,

- Jeff