Friday, April 3, 2015

Calendar Says April, Mother Nature Says It's May around the Puget Sound

Usually in April I'm thinking of the saying "April Showers Bring May Flowers," but this year we already have May flowers at the start of April.  Maples have been in full bloom and I've been watching the Blackberry growth for the start of flower spikes which I anticipate will be in bloom by the end of the month.

This year is warm and something I find interesting is that some plants are able adapt to the warmer weather and start early while others seem to be on a calendar schedule.  If this is any indication of things to come I would expect those plants that can start early to have an advantage.  When we have a surge in blooms like this the bees will favor the flowers that are easiest and most beneficial for them to work which could leave entire groups of plants ignored (at least by honey bees).

With all this nice weather I've had to split two hives already and one will have a queen mating in the next few days.  We are getting at least one 60F+ sunny day about every week, so as long as there are enough drones around she should be able to mate.  I'm not holding my breath for well mated queens and suspect I'll either have to recombine or replace the queens again midsummer, but you never know.  If nothing else I am creating an early brood break that will help the hives to reset from the long brood cycle over the warm winter.  When you have an extended season, varroa and disease are going to have more cycles to buildup and cause problems sooner in the season.

Bleeding hearts are in bloom.


Ceanothus are starting to bloom.  The common Lilac hasn't even started yet.


Chocolate Lily (Fritillaria affinis) is in bloom.


Lawn Daises are in bloom.


Mexican Orange (Choisya ternata) is in bloom.  I've seen the occasional flower on these since late fall.


Madrona trees are blooming.


Spanish Bluebells are in bloom.


Forget-me-not (Myosotis sylvatica) is in bloom.


Silver Dollar (Lunaria) is starting to bloom.


Archangel (Lamium galeobdolon) is in bloom. Plant these where nothing else will grow, they will take over your garden otherwise.


Siberian Squill is still coming up.


Wild Geraniums are just starting to bloom.


Collards are in bloom.


Trilliums are blooming.


Crabapple is in bloom.


Osmanthus delavayi smell great, but the girls have to work to get down to the bottom of the flower for the nectar.  With the abundance of flowers blooming and nice weather they are getting ignored for easier to work food sources.  


Rhododendron is in bloom.  Nectar from this source is just for the bees as it contains Grayanotoxin.


The Evergreen Huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum) is a versatile native plant that has the ability to grow in either full sun or deep shade.  When in a full sun exposure these bushes can get to 10 feet tall, and in low light locations may only grow a few feet tall.  New leaves are initially reddish and will darken to thick green leaves that are evergreen year round.  These plants like acidic soils and are often seen growing out of nurse logs or stumps.  Spring flowers will produce editable berries that will turn dark blue/black when they are ripe.  Birds and wildlife love to eat the berries as well so be quick to harvest when they are ready.


Hive checks (3/22/2015)
Rosemary Nuc
Inspected the hive today and it was packed with bees.  They had even built pieces of new comb filling up the empty gap in the back.  Unfortunately they had started on several queen cells that had pools of royal jelly and what I would guess to be 4-5 day old larvae.  My original plan for today was to install them into a full sized hive with old combs for them to use for buildup.  I had to adjust my plans slightly to split the hive.

She has been busy.


Since the cells weren't capped I might have been able to get away with just cutting them out and giving them space.  However I didn't really want to worry about missing a cell or having them swarm anyway so I split them into two new hives.  The queen in one hive and all the cells going to the other.  The old location with the cells will get all the foragers and I will recheck the queen right hive in a week to make sure I didn't miss any cells and they aren't still building new ones.

Another interesting note.  About half the queen cups had larvae in them the other half had newly laid eggs.  This is a hive I've seen try to issue secondary swarms in the past and that would be an excellent setup to stagger a set of cells a few days behind a first wave if they were trying for such a thing.  I removed all the cells with just eggs in them which should help prevent this from happening.

As for mating this time of year, that's a risk.  I know one of my other hives has mature drones so it's possible other hives further away may have mature drones as well.

  • Will she mate with 30 drones from a variety of hives or just 4 all coming from the same hive.  
  • Will the weather be sunny and at least 60F in 10-14 days for good flying... actually it might the way things have been.  

So it really comes down to the current drone coverage and if she can mate with a variety of genetics from different hives.  Increased genetic diversity of the workers in a hive has been shown to improve overall hive robustness and health.  On the bright side she would be mating with drones from other over wintered hives and not imported package drones.

I expect the new queen to emerge around April 1st.  I'll keep my fingers crossed that mother nature doesn't pull the April Fool's day card out and actually gives the new queen a chance to succeed.

Hive checks (3/26/2015)
Ballard Daughter hive
The hive is filling up with nectar and they have started to draw wax in the only open space left against the back wall.  Everything I saw said they should be prepping to swarm.  However every queen cup I checked appeared to be empty, but I might have missed an egg or two since some of them were pretty deep and hard to see into.  However, since there is no room left for them to expand into and all signs are pointing to the swarming impulse kicking in, I moved the queen to the old Rebel hive with a few frames of brood and resources.  I'll check back in a week to see if any of those cups actually turn into queen cells or if they have to draw emergency cells.

Entrance activity.


New comb


Bees hanging off the back wall of the hive.


Fresh nectar and pollen backfilled into the broodnest area.


The queen. 


More pollen and nectar backfilled. 


Nice frames of brood.


Here's a worker is helping a drone out of a cell.


Lots of empty queen cups.


Hive checks (3/30/2015)
Ballard Daughter in Rebel Hive (I'm gong to refer to them as the Rebels going forward)
They were still sorting themselves out and cleaning up comb in their new home.

The queen getting her bearings in the new hive.


Ballard
Slow buildup and a very conservative tight pattern.  This hive is on track and looks good.

You can see how the broodnest has expanded here.


Now that she is back to laying her color seems to have lightened again.  Looking at the pattern and her current coloring I'm pretty sure she is the same queen from last year.


Nice solid frame of brood.


This looks like a lighting issue, but it's not.  That darker bee has a streak of white pollen on it's head that almost looks like someone marked her with paint.  Around this time of year I also start to see the same effect with a more noticeable yellow pollen (I have a photo in an older post here).  I found that Rosemary flowers make this white pollen streak, but the jury is still out on the yellow pollen source.  What does surprise me is while Rosemary blooms all winter I only rarely see it leaving the white pollen streaks on them like this.  Perhaps the difference is in how the bees are working the flowers. usually the lighter bees only get a dusting and the darker bees get this more defined mark.

Her sisters appear to be admiring the pollen infused hair style.


Rosemary
The queen is laying and the hive is on the road to buildup again.  The new empty combs that they got had a nice pattern of young brood.  Both hives were unusually pissy today so listening to my better judgement I didn't check the queenless hive that is raising a new queen.

The queen.  


Back to the bees,

- Jeff