Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Smell of Hives in the Fall

Fall is here and I find myself reflecting on all the things I was going to do over summer that I never got around to.  This was an unusually hot and dry summer and it was challenging at times to suit up in full sun and do more than general hive inspection.  As a result didn't do all the queen breeding I was hoping to do.  On the plus side I did have a chance to put together a simple solar wax melter that melts wax beautifully.  I'll write up details in a future post.

Looking around the garden I'm seeing leaves starting to pile up and mushrooms popping up everywhere.  The hives are also starting to give off a familiar fall smell as they dry primarily ivy nectar.  I sometimes get asked what ivy nectar tastes like and it tastes just like it smells if you crush a leaf.  I find ivy to be a bit of a repulsive smell and I have found I need to limit how much time I spend pulling it out of the garden for removal projects.  Ivy honey also doesn't take long to crystallize so it's easy to spot and avoid.  I'm glad something finds it useful but if you have garden space there are much better fall blooming plants to plant.

This is also the time of year that hives are tested, especially if they are in the cities that have a high colony density that almost assures exposure to all the nasty stuff out there.  My hives all get 1-2 brood breaks a year and I generally don't simulate feed, which should mimic the opportunities that wild hives have for brood breaks.  When I see mites eating up a hive I think of them as wolves.  Nature has many ways to flush out weakness and mites are one of them.  I have hives that look beautiful, strong, and healthy and I have some that get sick.  Some genetic lines get sick every fall and still pull through, but in general once a hive gets sick it will crash.  Swarms are my biggest unknown and also my highest loss rates.  I could requeen with my stock, but I feel doing that limits the possibility of identifying new good genetic lines.  Instead I think of swarms as a test hive for the next year, and give them all the resources they need to survive winter.

I also never got around to posting last month so a few plants I took photos of are pretty much done blooming now as noted below.  

Caryopteris 'Dark Knight' is mostly done blooming now.  The bees love this one.

Dahlia flowers are still going strong, and a small Agapostemon bee has found this one.

Hardy Fuschia has been blooming all summer and loved by the humming birds.  The bees have only lately been attracted to it and this girl was collecting the white pollen.

Sedum is done blooming now.

English Ivy is in bloom and getting a lot of attention.

Seven Sons Tree (Heptacodium miconioides) is a late summer bloomer that is desirable to both bees and gardeners.  Flowers are fragrant and typically found in small clusters of 7, which gives us the common name.  After the white flowers fade a berry forms surround by deep red calyces that last late into the fall.  This tree also has attractive tender looking curled green leaves and exfoliating grayish bark.  Typically multiple trunks will sprout, but they can be pruned back to a single trunk allowing the tree to reach 15-20 feet tall.  These delicate looking trees are actually fairly hardy and can survive in a variety of garden conditions, however they do best in full sun with moderate soil moisture.  New plants can sometimes found in nurseries, or propagated by seeds or cuttings.

Impatiens omeiana is blooming.

Some Asters are still blooming.

Camellia sinensis (Tea) is blooming as well as many other members of the Camellia family.

Osmanthus fragrans is another great fall bloomer.

Hive checks (8/24/2015)
They have been very conservative in growth, however they have good numbers and bees deeply cover all the frames.  They also have good stores and a nice brood pattern.  The hive looked clean and no signs of disease.  Saw a few drones as well.

The queen looks good.

Nice brood pattern.

Hive checks (8/28/2015)
Queen Castle Slot 4 and Slot 2
I moved them into a double nuc for winter.  Didn't inspect closely, but saw nice patches of brood in both colonies.  Saw the queen in Slot 2 and she looked good.

This is a robust queen.

Nice brood pattern.

Queen Castle Slot 1
I moved them to a new location and put them in the old Icon hive.  They had a few frames of brood as well, but looked like they were low on stores.  They will take a hit losing some workers to Slot 2 that were left behind on on the sides of the walls of the queen castle.  This is the "mean" queen that is a machine when it comes to raising a LOT of brood when she wants to, and I'm curious to see how they build up with ivy and knotweed starting to bloom.

Hive checks (9/9/2015)
Broodnest was not very tight and there were 2-3 bees with DWV.  The queen looked good, but was not seeing much nectar/pollen coming in.

Things actually looked good minus the fact that they are still a small cluster.

Double Nuc
South - The south side was acting slightly defensive and didn't inspect, but gave them an extra empty comb to maybe fill.
North - They were building comb!  Didn't inspect either and gave them an empty comb to work with.

Hive checks (9/19/2015)
Did a cleanup inspection to fix cross comb.  They have done a good job of holding onto their honey stores.  Didn't make it to the broodnest area, but fixed the worst of the cross comb.

Same inspection as the Echo hive actually, spent all the time fixing issues and didn't get into the broodnest.  I'll harvest the junk frames from both hives I don't want them to reuse next year and those have mostly been moved to the back now.  I needed to be in and out without causing robbing otherwise I would have went through the entire hive.

Hive checks (9/26/2015)
The hive is in great shape for winter and they have lots of young healthy bees and I even saw a few drones.  They have good stores and the broodnest didn't show any signs of disease.  I would have liked to see more pollen reserves, which I'm sure will change with the return of more rain and flowers.

There are some mites in this hive as seen on the worker bee in this photo.

Typical of this queen line I found DWV and signs of mites which is typical for them in the fall.  I've come to expect this problem with this genetic line and sometimes they make it and sometimes they don't.  They have good honey reserves and a good population of workers.  I've kept them around in hopes to breed more resistance into them, but did not raise queens from them this year like I have in the past.

This is a new young queen and I'm optimistic they will pull through.

Plum Creek
They are in good shape for the winter.  I was hoping they would have built up more, but it's been a tough summer.

The queen is still looking huge.

I was happy to see that all the frames that used to be stored pollen from summer have turned into honey stores.  They are being slow to cap honey though.  The queen is still going strong and the broodnest is still about the size of two basketballs.  There is a little surplus pollen, but not much.  I also saw drones in this hive.

Another good looking queen.  This line of bees was treatment free.

They were a tad pissy (I suppose that's an improvement) and didn't want me in the hive.  The broodnest looked good and it looked like they might be trying to build comb.  There is a lot of brood on the way for this small hive.

Another young, stubborn queen that keeps going.

They have a nice pollen arch on this frame for the brood they are raising.

Found DWV, mites and some melted brood.  This was a swarm from a beekeeper that treats and I suspect they don't have any natural resistances.  There are a good number of bees and they weren't happy to have me around.  Yellow jackets are bad at this location and I closed down the entrances on all the hives.

Hive checks (9/27/2015)
Loyal Heights Nuc
Wow this girls get more pissy every time I look at them.  I requeened over summer in hopes that they would calm down and they are just as bad as ever.  I'm starting to wonder if they raised a queen from the old mother brood and killed the queen I put in there.  Either way they are in great shape for winter and the bees are two levels deep on the combs.  The broodnest looked good and there were no signs of disease.  They are light on stores.

Split Nuc
Side A
The broodnest was looking good and no signs of disease.  They were building comb, but also looked light on stores.

Side B
They are light on stores.  They are raising a good amount of brood, and no signs of disease.

Hive checks  (10/4/2015)
Signs of DWV and the queen seemed weak.  There are a good number of bees in this hive and didn't see melted brood so perhaps they might pull through.

They were looking great and no signs of disease.  Nice tight broodnest and signs they are ready for winter.

They were looking great and no signs of disease.  Nice laying pattern and showing carniolan winter tendencies with a smaller colony size.  They also had a pollen surplus and several frames of capped honey which is pretty good for a swarm.

Queen is looking good.

The broodnest is still looking good in this hive.

Back to the bees.

- Jeff