Thursday, June 4, 2015

When Best Efforts Don't Go According to Plan

It's only been two weeks since I last posted and as you can see below, my notes go on and on!  This is indeed a busy time of year for beekeepers with the blackberry nectar flow underway.  Add to that a mild winter and LOTS of beautiful weather here in Seattle and any hive that has an opportunity is trying to throw swarms (yes that's plural) which brings me to my story.

Once upon a time a queen bee decided things were good and it was time to leave on a new adventure.  She set a process in motion for the arrival of several princesses and then departed with a portion of staff to build a new home.  The princesses were then expected to emerge and compete with each other so that only the strongest is left to run the kingdom.   However sometimes things don't always go according to plan and instead several strong princesses left to build new homes of their own instead of competing with each other.

So yeah the later happened...

I made a controlled split to move the existing queen to a new home and then I went back in about 13 days later cut down the cells to the best 4.  The other extra cells I moved to other hives I'd made queenless or to the queen castle.  So why leave more than 1 cell in the hive?  Well when a hive makes 10, 20, 30 queen cells usually a few of them aren't viable and there really isn't a way to know this if the bees are covering them.  So if you chose poorly you end up with no queen for the hive.  I did have two cells I put in the queen castle fail that otherwise looked good and were covered in bees.

So atlas I've been debating with myself what I should have done and the best answer I can come up with is that I should have left 1 cell or no cells.  What no cells?  Yes my thinking here is that I should have hatched all the cells in nucs or the queen castle and then once I had a mated queen then introduce her in the hive.  Besides doesn't everyone miss that one hidden cell anyway.

While that is a lot of work it would have prevented the secondary swarm coming off a hive I wanted to keep extra strong for the nectar flow.  That also means you need gear for the old queen to live in and gear to raise the cells.  At the end of the day if the cells all fail you still have the original queen to combine back into the hive after the flow.

Keep in mind this is usually "rare" and a seasonal/genetics based predisposition.  However I'm hearing the same story from too many other beekeepers this year, and I have also already picked a few secondary swarms myself.  I would say until the end of the flow this is going to be less of a "rare" occurrence to one that is more common.

Japanese Snowbell Tree (Styrax japonicus) is a good nectar/pollen source.

Bumble bee getting nectar from Lupine (Lupinus).

I usually have a hard time finding honey bees on Blackberry around my neck of the woods, but not this year.

Kiwi (male flower).

Kiwi (female flower).

Hebe is a native New Zealand shrub that is low maintenance and adapts well to our Northwest climate.  Depending on the variety you can get blooms at various times between late spring and early winter.  Leaf color and structure varies greatly, and blooms colors include white, pink, purple and crimson.  Not all varieties overwinter well here, and optimal locations are well drained, sunny, and protected from winter winds.  These compact evergreens also make great container plants and only need occasional watering during droughts.  Propagate by seeds or late summer cuttings.

Lilies are in bloom.

Japanese spirea is coming into bloom and a good nectar source.

Calendula officinalis is blooming.

Raphiolepis is popular with the bees as well.

Hive Checks (5/15/2015)
The hive is looking really good and they are storing nectar.  You almost wouldn't know they almost died of disease last fall.  I did some rearranging of combs to consolidate all the worker combs together to make the broodnest area bigger.  This was a "problem" I caused by moving honey next to the small cluster in early spring that they didn't need.  Now that they have grown this honey has created a wall that the queen won't cross to find empty cells to lay in.  Added an empty bar to see if they are ready to start drawing new comb.

She has her head in a cell looking to see if it's clean and ready for an egg.

Brood pattern

Something else I noticed in this hive was that one of the workers started making a piping sound when I inspected  a comb.  I've heard queen piping before and this was a little like that, but it wasn't coming from a queen.  I'm not sure why a worker would make a sound during an inspection and it didn't seem to agitate any of the bees like you might expect from an "alert" like sound.

They are off to a good start and they were even building a little new comb.  The queen has wasted no time getting things in order and has laid eggs in almost every open cell she could find.  In just a week there is a nice patch of capped worker brood on the way.  I'm also happy to note that there are no signs of a disease spike post split that I sometimes find.

This queen just keeps going.

Lots of brood on the way.

Hive Checks (5/17/2015)
Loyal Heights Swarm (Nuc)
The queen has started laying.  Saw a few capped worker cells.  They have only made one new comb.

She has gotten pretty big and should be a good queen.

The queen was barely laying and I found queen cells off a frame of drone comb.  I suspect the old queen is wearing out and with her inability to clear up the virus issues in the Rebel hive I've decided to replace her.  I added a comb with capped queen cells from the Ballard hive.  I also moved all the capped drone brood to the Rebel hive.

They had already torn down several of the queen cells and I opened the only two left.  One had a small developing queen that likely wouldn't have amounted to much and the other was just goo.  I pulled both out and gave them a comb with capped queen cells from the Ballard hive.

They had 9 combs with capped queen cells on them and most combs had at least 2-3 cells.  I pulled 2 combs out for Titan and Rebel.  I still need to reduce the number left down to prevent after swarms, but I have a few more days to do that and figure out where to put them.  I likely will try the queen castle again which usually is a disappointment.

This could be either an emergency or swarm queen cell.  They would have made both based on the timing of the split.

Picked up a smaller swarm in Wedgewood that looked to be about 10,000 bees.  The bees are smaller in size and likely came from an old tree, structure, or a foundation-less hive.  They may have been living in the nearby greenbelt.  Based on the smaller swarm size and the description for how long they were around there is a chance this is a secondary swarm.

Hive Checks (5/20/2015)
Setup the queen castle with three slots and pulled more cells out of Ballard.  I don't usually have good luck with the queen castle as most of the bees move to one of the slots or fly home, however I'm hoping that since the cells are going to emerge any day now they might have a bit more success.

Bee math: I made the split on 5/9 which would put day 15-16 on 5/23 or 5/24.  However I've seen them turnaround a queen faster than that using 3 day old eggs which would give us 5/21.  If you are raising queens in a controlled way and grafting 1-2 day old larvae you should be able to accurately estimate the exact day of emergence.  However for splits there is a little wiggle room so I play it safe, plus it only takes one queen to be early to wipe out the rest. Speaking of nice weather the coming week is looking very nice for mating weather.

So now Rebel, Titan and Ballard all have 3-4 good cells each.  All the cells in Ballard are next to each other so I'm hoping that will prevent any type of secondary swarms (Dun-Dun-Duuuun!).

Hive Checks (5/23/2015)
Found the queen and 2-3 day old eggs.  The queen did have the look of an older queen based on how she walked around and her abdomen was elongation.  I'm guessing she took a few days to start laying as the timing seems too fast for a virgin queen to be laying already.  Also found some almost all black worker bees in the mix.  I think darker bees have an advantage in our cooler weather to possibly warm up in the sun faster.

One of those mostly black bees.

The queen is laying in a cell.

The queen moving around.

Hive Checks (5/24/2015)
The hive looked good and they are building up. They have a wave of brood that is coming and they should really explode soon.  I did notice slight backfilling but I think that is due to lack of space and bees while they are trying to turnover the first generation of bees post swarm and are having to balance between building new comb and keeping brood warm.

Another interesting observation was that much of the new wax they are drawing is more yellow than white.  They must be working something different from my other hives for them to be getting yellow wax.  Usually I see white wax when it's new, but I have also seen new wax that is slightly tan as well.  I generally assume if a hive is working an uncommon nectar source that likely can give them an advantage.

The queen looks good.

The hive is full of bees and they are all the way in the back.  They are storing nectar and have built out several new combs.

Lots of brood coming in this hive.

There are bees all the way in the back of the hive now.  The queen has places to lay in the broodnest area but doesn't take advantage of the space.  I also noticed that she wasn't laying every cell and saw eggs and empty cells next to each other.  This could be a sign of disease, but I suspect it has more to do with the queen wearing out herself.  They built out a new comb with the empty bar I gave them.  They have the highest ratio of drones to workers than any of my other hives, which is typical for this queen line.  Gave them a couple more empty bars to build.

This queen gets a lot of attention.

She has some bright yellow pollen on her.

All the combs have good solid pattern of brood and they are building two new combs.  When the brood hatches out they are in a good position to explode.  I hope the new daughters of this queen are equally impressive.

Still looking good.

Nice solid textbook brood pattern.

Hive Checks (5/25/2015)
Sadly my efforts to prevent an afterswarm by removing most of the queen cells failed.  They swarmed to a spot 30 feet up in a nearby tree.  At first there were three small groups and now they have merged into one mass (could still have multiple queens in the cluster).  I have a bait hive out that is drawing a lot of interest from the swarm with about 30 bees a minute visiting to check it out.  I hope they move down in the morning despite the fact it's so close to the parent hive location.

So high up.

Queen Castle
Checked the three slots and found two had emerged queens.  The last one still had two unopened cells that I suspect are dead.

Opened queen cell.

The new queen is ready to go mate.  She is not her full size yet.

Hive Checks (5/26/2015)
Plum Creek (Swarm)
I was able to get the swarm down and put them in the Plum Creek hive.

Zoom shot to see the cluster better.

Moving into the hive.

Hive Checks (5/31/2015)
Things look good and they are building up.  A good amount of nectar is getting stored.  They are raising plenty of brood and drawing new comb.

She is showing her age a bit by her tattered wings.

The hive isn't growing very fast and they are being stubborn about drawing comb.  It looked like they were storing nectar, however I would have liked to see more happening with them by now.  There are a lot of colors of bees in the hive and I'm noticing some that are more brown or dark caramel colored that aren't as common to see.  Based on all the colors it would seem she mated with a variety of drones.

She is a big queen and should be laying up a storm.

Lots of color variations in these bees.

Queen Castle
Slot 1 & 3 have queens that look to have mated.  Slot 4 still had two unopened queen cells.  I pulled these apart and found them both with dried up larvae.  Ironically the drone laying queen we pulled yesterday at Field Day was still alive in my suit pocket without any attendants!  I released her into this tiny cluster of bees to see if she would be able to squeeze out any more worker brood or if she really was done.  Usually fading queens die within hours after pulling them out of hives so to see that she pulled through the night without any heat source is impressive.

Plum Creek
Saw the queen and she was good sized and looked like she would start laying any day now.  They are building comb.  I checked this hive because I wanted to make sure the queen wasn't lost in the swarming process.

I didn't check the other sister hives (Ballard, Rebel and Titan) for new queens as there isn't much to learn from them yet, and it would be easy to miss a queen in the bigger hives without any other signs of a queen (brood) to look for.  I'll hold off a week to check those hives when I can at least look for signs of a queen as well.

It will be another 10 or so days before we know how well she mated.

They are trying to turnover a new generation but otherwise not much has happened in here since last inspection.

New comb with a patch of brood.

She is a smaller queen, but seems to be off to a good start.

Attis Nuc
This is the sister to the queen in the Echo hive.  She doesn't look to have mated as well, and most of the bees in here look Italian.  They don't seem to have much vigor to build up or store nectar like the nearby hives.

She is good sized, but I don't think she mated as well based on the worker colors.

Brood area.

Loyal Heights Nuc
Wow they are going crazy.  There is more brood than it seems possible for them to keep warm.  They are also drawing new comb.  They are going to need to move into a full hive soon.

New comb with nice brood pattern.

Lots of nice brood on the way.

The queen looks good.

Hive Checks (6/1/2015)
Queen Castle
Got a swarm call for a tiny swarm (about 1 to 1.5 pounds) in South Lake Union under the freeway.  They looked like they had been hanging out all weekend unable to find a suitable new home based on the small amount of wax they had started to build.  I put them in slot 2 of the Queen Castle with a few drawn frames.  Based on the small cluster size I'm guessing they are a secondary swarm with a virgin queen.  Assuming the queen mates well they are still going to need a little help to build up.

The chain-link fence gives you a good idea how small they are.

Back to the bees,

- Jeff