Friday, May 15, 2015

Ideal Weather Conditions Are Driving A Strong Swarm Impluse

Blackberries have just started to bloom and we have a slight storm passing through giving the ground a good soak.  If things work out we could have a very good blackberry nectar flow this year.  Usually the ground my neighborhood gets too dry by the time the blackberry bloom starts for them to be a good nectar source and the bees work Black Locust instead.  However with the shift in our normal weather patterns things have been strongly stacked in favor of good nectar flows from everything this year.

Another unusual trend occurring this year that is a result of beneficial weather patterns is all the early swarms in the area.  I've picked up a few already and from observations I'm seeing in my own hives I think a lot of beekeepers that split early, or caught early swarms are going to be caught off guard that those very hives could already be restarting the swarm cycle with the onset of the blackberries.

I'm often surprised at the number of city beekeepers that do relatively little to control swarming.  If you live in the woods miles away from urban areas, then swarms likely aren't creating any issues.  However in populated urban areas where there are only a few old hollow trees, swarms typically make homes in peoples walls/attics (or other creative spots) that are difficult (expensive) to remove them from.  There are several methods to control swarming and they all involve creating an environment where the queen has a broodnest area with empty cells to lay in. This is not the same thing as providing them empty space to build comb, although sometimes it might appear that's what you are doing.

Too control swarming and build bigger colonies you will want to look into one of these methods:
  1. Checkerboarding 
  2. Demaree Method
  3. Broodnest Expanson
A fourth option to consider if you also want to increase colonies, or you can't commit to one of the above methods is that you can split a hive.  There are various ways to make a split, but the result is you have two or more hives.  This reduces resources and the population in each hive and thus creates room for the queen to lay. 

If a hive was split and left to make queens, or already issued a primary swarm you can still get another swarm (about a week later) when the new queens emerge.  While secondary swarms (there can be multiple) are less common they can happen when you have multiple queens emerging and the hive still feels it is too populated.  The virgin queen(s) will leave with more bees to each find new home, instead of fighting each other.  This can go on until there is just one queen left in the hive or one queen left that removes any remaining competition.  To help limit this possibility I usually only leave 2-3 good looking queen cells that are close to each other.

Raspberries are still drawing a lot of attention.

Crimson clover is blooming.  

Poppies (Papaver somniferum) are blooming and full of black pollen.

Camassia quamash is in bloom.

Rosa nutkana is in bloom.

Columbine is in bloom.

Blackberry spikes are starting and are both a pollen and nectar source.

Black Locust is starting to bloom and is an excellent nectar source.

Sage is in bloom.

Hive checks (5/1/2015)
Quickdraw (Wallingford Swarm)
Installed a swarm from another top bar beekeeper into this hive.  This is my first time coming across a swarm of regressed bees.  I'm curious to record the measurements of the cell size for the new worker comb they create.

It's hard to take a picture that can capture their organization.  Upon transferring them into the hive they very quickly spread out along the walls.  It is sort of like when you have metal shavings on a piece a glass and run a magnet underneath and everything lines up like magic all at once.

Fanning at the entrance to help them orient to their new home.

Hive checks (5/2/2015)
There are a decent number of bees in this hive and I couldn't find any signs of disease.  However I found more drone brood than worker brood which concerns me and might be a sign this queen is running out of steam.  Something else interesting I noticed was that they had a few worker cells on the comb edges which I've never seen in a hive before.  There were also signs that they were backfilling and the queen is ignoring the combs in the rest of the hive which could be a swarm setup.

Still a little spotty, but better.

Backfilling on this frame.

Capped cells on the edges of the frame.

They really like this queen.  Despite all the issues I've had with this queen line I still want to keep them going.

Saw the queen and she looked good.  Found eggs and a patch of 1-2 day old larvae which means that this was a primary swarm and the queen started laying a day or two after she was installed into the hive.  I staggered drawn comb and empty bars and they had started on three new combs.  Oddly they were mostly drawing large honey cell sized comb.

Drawing new comb.  Mostly honey/drone cell sized.

She looks like an older queen.

Hive checks (5/3/2015)
Nuc (Swarm in Loyal Heights)
Got a swarm call for a smaller swarm that was maybe 2-3 pounds of bees (6,000-8,000 bees).  I put them in a nuc as I think it will take them all summer to build up.

A small swarm not too high up in the tree.

Rebel daughter & Rebel (Titan)
I removed what I thought was a tiny daughter queen that was similar to the one I removed from the sister nuc.  I only found drone larvae in cells and several in-progress queen cups that looked to be made from drone cells. Since the Rebel hive is still having issues with DWV I moved the queen in a cage with a marshmallow plug to try and introduce her back to her original hive.  I'm hoping that since she is the mother of all the workers she will be easily accepted and preferred if I did miss a drone laying queen somewhere.  I'm going to call this hive Titan so it's easier to keep track of from Rebel which is now queenless.

The mother queen.

Nuc Combo (Attis)
This is the nuc I made up with cells from Rebel (Ballard daughter) hive that didn't make it and I introduced a virgin queen.  I found drone brood on combs in the back and worker brood on combs in the front of the hive.  I'm hoping that the drone cells in the back are from the frames that came from the tiny queen in the other hive.  I am going to call this nuc Attis.

Keeping my fingers crossed that this queen mated well.

Hive checks (5/4/2015)
They are now at the back of the hive drawing comb.  The queen has been laying eggs everywhere and I found several new cups with eggs in them.  I also found what looked to be several emergency type cells along the edges of the frames.  I think the hive is now in reproductive swarm mode and while I'm not seeing backfilling I'm also not going to be able to stop them much longer since I'm out of space.  I did pull out all the cells with eggs to force them back another week and will plan to split them in the next few days.

The queen is looking good.

Nice brood pattern.

Queen cups (empty) and a few Queen cells (with larvae).

If you look closely you can see a small egg standing on end at the bottom of the cell.

Hive checks (5/9/2015)
Nuc (Loyal Heights Swarm)
They were fairly defensive today despite the fact it was beautiful out.  Took a look at what they were doing and found the queen and saw her drop an egg walking around on the frame.  Hopefully she figures it out that they go in the cells.  No signs of any brood yet, but that's inline with my thinking that this was a secondary swarm with a virgin queen.  They aren't building comb very quickly, but they aren't all that big either so it balances out.

Its hard to tell in this picture, but she hasn't fully filled out yet and has the look of a new queen.

A little new comb.

Attis Nuc
The queen is getting her bearings now and there is more capped worker brood in the hive!  So far the pattern looks good and there is potential for her to be a good queen.  I'm curious if the workers will all be the same color (maybe poor mating) or if there is some variation (signs she mated well).

The queen is looking good.

Pulled the queen and about 7 frames of bees and resources and moved her to the Luna hive.  I tried to get as little capped and open brood as possible.  I am doing this because I want to give her a reset for disease levels/mite load which can hide in capped brood.  I saw several queen cups and a few with larvae in them. I'll go back in a week to cut down or divide up the capped cells to prevent a secondary swarm which is likely from a large hive like this.

Nice laying pattern.

Uncapped queen cell with larvae in it.  Mostly what you are seeing is the royal jelly, but there would only be royal jelly like this if there was something in there.

When the cells are just starting they can be easily missed.

The queen is looking good.

Saw the queen and she looked good.  I can usually tell the different between an older laying queen and a virgin or newly laying queen and she was definitely an older queen.  Based on the age of some of the brood she started laying a few days after installing the swarm which also confirms this was a primary swarm.  They were building comb and off to a good start.

One interesting observation I noted was that there were several workers with hairless thoraxes.  Sometimes this happens during robbing and the hairs get pulled out, or it can happen with age and they get worn away. However in both cases you can still kind of tell hairs used to be there.  The few bees I saw in this hive didn't look like there was ever hair there (much like a queen).  I will watch for this on young nurse bees to see if any are born that way.  This could also be Chronic Paralysis Virus (CPV) which makes the bees hairless.

This bee may have Chronic Paralysis Virus (CPV).  It is also an older worker looking at how much it's wings have been worn. I saw 5-6 bees throughout the hive like this.  If this is CPV the usual cure is to re-queen.  Since this is a swarm, I'm going to wait and see what happens.  I want to find this on younger bees before taking a corrective action as the swarm cycle can reset a lot of issues.

I find it interesting that this comb is large honey cell sized. They must think they need drones or storage space.  Usually I find more drones in swarms so maybe they are trying to restore a natural balance.  I saw the same thing in Dyno last week.

This is another new comb and I was happy to see that it was worker sized.  I wanted to draw attention in this photo to where the two initial comb lobs met and they left a passage.  They don't always do this, but the odds increase the closer they are to the entrance.

Great looking queen.

Hive checks (5/10/2015)
Rosemary split with the new name Echo
The new queen is doing great and has laid several frames of worker brood.  She has also filled out and is much larger than I noticed previously.  Now that I have a laying queen in this hive I'm going to name the hive Echo.  This is the sister queen to the queen in the Attis Nuc.

The new queen is laying.

Nice area of worker brood.

They were slightly defensive today.  I found them starting to draw new comb.  The queen is laying everywhere in the hive and I saw them making several queen cups.  The broodnest still looked open and I added some empty bars for them to build out with the next flow about to start.  No signs of disease anymore.

This queen is still going strong.

Hive checks (5/12/2015)
The good news is that I found the queen released and she was roaming around looking for places to lay.  I'm not sure when they released her, but I couldn't find any young larvae or eggs, not that there was more than a handful of empty cells to lay in.  Most of the drone brood that was laid by the old drone laying queen had been capped.  I added an empty drawn comb to give her a spot to work with.  This will also help to confirm there isn't another issue.  I'm also thinking I might move all the drone brood out as it could lead to a disease buildup.

The queen is back home with her children. 

They actually made several queen cells.  It also looks like most of the sick brood has been cleaned out.

Back to the bees,

- Jeff

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Blackberries Are Coming

I've been surprised to find a common theme from conversations with fellow beekeepers recently that many have been essentially following a calendar timeline for hive management.  We have had unusually nice spring weather for months here in the Puget Sound and many hives have already built up.  Without some level of swarm management most hives will be in a position where they are ready to swarm, if they haven't done so already.   This is the time of year to be doing inspections every 7-10 days to keep space open in the broodnest.

Blackberries are days away from having the first bloom spikes opening and we should be peak flow in the next 2-3 weeks.  If the weather stays on course this may also be the last nectar flow until fall and like the bees we should be thinking ahead for what is coming in the next 2-3 months.

Things I will be planning for:

  • A long summer dearth
  • Brood breaks to interrupt the disease cycle

Centaurea montana (Bachelor's Button Cornflower) is a good nectar source.

Sun Rose (Helianthemum nummularium) is in bloom and a good pollen source.

Ornithogalum umbellatum are in bloom.

Rock Rose is starting to bloom.  This is a popular pollen source.

This is a great time of year to start training bees to use a local water source before they find one in your neighbors yard.

Double crimson Hawthorn blooms.

Raspberries are coming into bloom.

Wisteria is blooming.

Dicentra aurora are still blooming.

Golden Chain tree is in bloom.

Sweet Cicely is in bloom.

Common Lilac is starting to bloom.

Apples have finished blooming.

Scotch broom has been blooming for awhile.

Viburnum plicatum 'Summer Snowflake' is in bloom.

Viburnum is filling the air with it's sweet scent.

Catmint (Nepeta) produces long lasting flower spikes that are highly appealing to honey bees.  They are members of the mint family and do best in sunny locations with moderate water requirements and also show good drought tolerance once established.  Unlike many other perennials Nepeta is tough and can flourish even if neglected for many years.  Both the foliage scent and flowers will benefit from short dry periods between watering.  Trimming back spent flower spikes mid-summer will help keep new flowers forming all summer long.  Many of the newer varieties of Nepeta you will find are sterile hybrid crosses that need to be propagated from division or cuttings.  They are great plants for use in rock gardens, along pathway edges, or as companion plants in rose gardens.

California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) is in bloom.

Some varieties of Lavender are already blooming.

Mock Orange or Philadelphus coronarius is a nectar source.

Chives are blooming.

Honeysuckle is coming into bloom.  Humming birds will out compete the bees for these.

Iris are blooming.

Iceland poppy is starting to bloom.

Hive checks (4/12/2015)
Nuc 1
Looks like the queen cell they had to work with was bad.  I found part of a developing queen on the floor of the hive and she was still white.  Added a virgin queen from another hive to give them a chance to get a mated a queen.

Virgin queens.

Picture of one of the virgin queens on the comb.

Nuc 2
The cell was open, but I didn't see the queen.  Will check again in a week and see if she has started laying.

Rosemary split
Lots of fanning and most of the cells were full of nectar or pollen. No signs of a queen.  I split them with about 4 day old larvae (day 7) in queen cells on 3/22.  I expected new queens about 9 days later on 4/1.  The new queen has had 12 days to start laying but with no sign of her or signs of queen activity and the excessive fanning I'd say it was a good bet they were queenless.  I added a virgin queen from another hive to give them a second chances to get a mated queen.

I believe horse chestnut is the likely cause of this yellow mark.  I had the pollen checked last year and it didn't "match" known samples of horse chestnut, but I still think this is caused by horse chestnut and need to get better samples from the pollen baskets and flowers for a more accurate ID.

Horse chestnut flowers.

The queen is building the hive back up again and there is a good amount of brood coming.  I did notice some brood disease, and I'm hoping that doesn't turn into a bigger issue.

Busy queen.  She has gone through as least 2 winters and perhaps more.

Hive checks (4/25/2015)
Nuc 1
The queen I introduced is still around and I saw a few eggs.  No idea yet if or how well she mated.

They seem to like the virgin queen.  Hopefully she mated well.

Nuc 2
Also found a few eggs in this hive and the saddest queen I've ever seen.  If this hive wasn't just a few frames of bees I would never have been able to pick her out.  Small queens are fine but that is not what she was.  When they aren't any bigger than a worker they usually don't survive long or don't mate and become drone layers.  Rather than wait for the inevitable I pulled her out and combined with Nuc 1 that at least has a good sized queen.

Sad looking queen.  Sometimes this happens with splits and emergency queens.

Rebel Daughter
Saw a few eggs, and didn't see the queen.  This is a big hive and it would be easy to miss her.  I tried to get them to draw new comb and they are being stubborn.  Also everything they did start they wanted to make perpendicular to the existing comb.  Argh!  Also saw what looked to be an old capped queen cell in the front which wouldn't be a good sign.

I think this is old, but you never know.

Still seeing DWV in this hive, but they are increasing in numbers slowly.  I'm surprised how hard of a time they are having bouncing back in this hive.  This hive gets almost no direct sun and that might be part of the issue.

She is trying to build up again.

They have been slow and steady and have built up nicely.  They are using about 75% of the hive and are on the verge of increasing 3 fold in the next 1-2 weeks.  I found a few queen cells with freshly laid eggs in them that I removed.  Most were empty so I may still have some time to delay them.  I added some spacers to see if I can get them to draw comb instead of swarming.  I would like to delay until the second week in May, but sometimes you have to compromise.

Over the years I have seen newly laid eggs in random queen cups too often for it to be a coincidence and I think this is more common than people think.  I think queens lay eggs everywhere and workers decide when they want to let them turn into queens.  However there is no way to know which is the case if you should happen to see one.

Most of the frames look like this, she has a great brood pattern.

Here is the queen.

Another bee with the yellow pollen marks.

The laying pattern is a little spotty but the signs of disease I was seeing before appears to be clearing up.  They seem to be building up nicely again.

She look huge in this picture.

Brood frame is well covered.

Rosemary split
Saw the new queen and watched her fly off the back frame I was looking at and fly back in through the hive entrance.  Watching a queen fly off a frame is not something you want to have happen!  She hasn't started laying yet like her sister, but this is a bigger hive so could have easily missed a few random eggs.  They were polishing cells for her to start using which is a good sign and where I will look for her to have started laying next inspection.

Hopefully this young queen starts laying soon.

Hive checks (4/26/2015)
Caught a swarm that I suspect might be a secondary swarm (virgin queen) and put it into the old Dyno hive.  This hive is full of half combs of honey and should get them off to a good start.

This swarm was wrapped around the trellis and grape vines making it necessary to scoop them off into the box.

What they looked like after I transferred them into the hive.

Blackberries are close.  Just a few more days.

Back to the bees,

- Jeff