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)
Solis
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.


Dyno
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)
Ballard
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.


Ballard
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.


Quickdraw
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.


Rosemary
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)
Titan
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. 


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

Back to the bees,

- Jeff