Sunday, January 17, 2016

Planning For 2016

The last few months haven't been great bee watching weather with just 8-9 hours between sun rise and set. Combine that with the usual non-sunny weather and sometimes it feels like you missed a day.  Either way the days are slowly getting a bit longer as we march towards spring.  I was pleasantly surprised to see the girls out in force the other day when somehow it got up to 49F and the sun was out!  In my excitement I was foolishly standing too close to the hive entrance and got pooped on.

They don't poop in the hive, and thus need to hold it for the nice weather so when the suns out they go on what is called cleaning flights.

Here's a shot of one warming up it's wings in the sun, probably after pooping on me.

I'm switching to different way to track my hive notes this year that should save me time and will just be posting big observations.  I'm hoping that will allow me to post more often and focus on highlights that will be easier for readers to follow and digest.  

The big mistake of 2015 was that I picked a bad breeder queen (Ballard).  It was her third year and she had gone through two winters with no treatments.  The hive was calm, built mostly inline combs with few attachments, had great spring buildup, and they stored a good amount of honey.  The mother hive she came from (not mine) was also a survivor without treatment for as many years.  I raised 6 daughter queens from them and put them in my production hives.  Sadly the mother queen and all the daughters failed either due to varroa or late season queen loss.  

Optimistically thinking, I had ignored in my selection process that they always came out of winter looking beat up with low numbers.  If there had been any late winter storms in March the last few years they would have been goners.  I haven't seen late season queen loss like this before and suspect that whatever virus was getting passed around by varroa included something that affected queens.

Not to beat myself up too badly last summer was brutal with the drought and longer varroa breading season.  Mother nature was really doing her best to weed out anything with weak genetics and I've heard that even beekeepers using treatments are having higher than usual losses.  Also in-city mating is dicey when it comes to keeping the quality traits you want.

I still have 5 unique queen lines left of which two are shining.  I've been reading a lot about a genetic trait were bees cripple or kill varroa mites by biting them, thus stopping them from spreading disease or reproducing.  I addition to hygienic behavior this is another attribute I will be looking for in hives before I select them for breeding this year.  

Hope everyone's 2016 is off to a good start!

Back to the bees,

- Jeff