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

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