Sunday, July 25, 2010
I harvested a small amount of honey,
I finished removing bees from an old school house,
I planted a strip of our yard with sweet yellow clover,
I tried a new swarm removal technique,
I'm testing a queen discourager.
From the beginning, #1 swarmed
It was a nice sunny day after several soggy wet days, so I was sitting outside watching my bees work, I noticed Lazarus was unusually busy she also kept getting more and more active, so I was thinking wow and she went from dead to this! Then I realized that it wasn't simple industry causing all the commotion they were swarming! So as usual (it becomes almost routine) I gathered the equipment needed to house my new swarm from my favorite hive, this time I would install them into a bait hive that already smells like bees so they will accept their new home properly.
I also tried something new this time, I attached a bucket onto the end of a fifteen foot pole. I used this to "shake" the main cluster into then pour all the bees into my box. The results were wonderful baring only one thing, everything went beautifully, bees got settled, I didn't have to climb a ladder or cut branches, the only caveat was this bucket system seems to agitate normally docile bees. They were mad! I'm lucky I had donned my vial, as it was I got stung twice in the hand. My camera operator was not so lucky, she got stung in the forehead, this of course ended up causing swelling around the eyes, If you have ever watched "star trek deep space 9" then you would understand the odo look.
This is what everyone seems to want, whenever I talk about bees people always want to know how I harvest honey, honestly why wouldn't they want to know about my bees? Honey is just the reward for housing them. I had to remove a couple combs in #3 since they were getting jammed with comb almost all the thirty bars had comb, since this hive was queen-less they had even filled some broodnest with honey, I am of the opinion that they will open space for a queen to lay when needed since otherwise colonies would always fail after swarming. As long as I give them space to put more honey, since this is what they live for. This honey is remarkably clear, it almost looks like apple juice except for the high refraction, it tastes mild but very sweet. It might be soya been honey since several fields were planted near us this year, we also have alfalfa and clover fields close by, no shortage of forage this year.
Nasty Mean Bees
The day I set out to finish removing the leftover bees from this old schoolhouse down the road from were I live, started out pleasant enough, nice weather a nice breeze. However once I removed the temporary cover I was using to keep the hive sheltered, the day got slightly less pleasant. Not until that day have I ever been chased away from a cut-out after only a few minutes of work. The bees were not just buzzing but stinging like crazy! I was fully suited mind you they found ways through non the less. So I put a jacket under my bee suit, since the jacket was bulky it would keep the suit away from my skin, and thus away from stingers , this worked like a charm, I also smoked them while I vacuumed, sadly they did not have any brood to speak of almost no capped brood. I didn't even see any queen cells caped or otherwise. I pulled a bar of brood / eggs from two of my hives, put them in two nucs then divided bees between them. when I complete some more full hives this month I will probably combine them for the winter.
Crop Of Honey
Above is bees foraging on "Bird's-Foot Trefoil"
Picture of newly germinated "sweet yellow clover" left, "purple loosestrife" right
I was so exited when I found a supplier of sweet yellow clover seeds, most places sell white clover for planting in your lawns, I needed the kind that will grow three feet tall, bees absolutely adore this stuff, an acre of this stuff can by some accounts produce one thousand pounds of honey, and given the opportunity bees prefer this to most other forage plants. Bees being pragmatic creatures will forage plants that not only produce large amounts of nectar but high quality nectar thus reducing the need for evaporation and increasing foraging efficiency!
As to the Queen discourager. It is supposed to work like the excluders used in commercial operations except it doesn't actually prevent the queen from laying eggs in your honey, all it does is form a semi division in a hive separating honey from brood, since she will keep the brood all in one place this uses her instincts to get her to keep all the brood in one side instead of spread out along the length. So far it seems to be working, I will know for sure soon, she only seems to lay drone eggs on the other side of the "QD", I have seen this phenomenon in natural feral hives before,
in this picture you can see the dark brood comb in one stud section with the lighter honey on either side separated by studs. This is how a QD works in theory.
Monday, July 12, 2010
Top bar hive management just like anything new takes some adjustment in perspective, I had it in my head the bees would build almost twenty bars of broodnest and only fifteen or so bars of honey, since my system uses 1-1/4" bars with 1/4" spacers for honey bars. I was envisioning needing only ten or fifteen spacers per hive, this might not be the case with the majority of my hives, many are building less then ten bars for their core worker brood nest. This also puts to rest my concern about lack of space inside my 48" hives, if they only build up to twelve bars of brood I will have plenty of room in most of my hives for a full colony, the odd colony will be super big but hopefully this will be an anomaly instead of the norm.
You can tell when they start on drone/honey comb because the comb will start to wander off the top bars center, this would get worse and worse until you have a crossed comb mess, bees will build honey comb about 1-1/2" apart so by placing a 1/4" spacer between bars I get 1-1/2" center to center. My mistake was not realising that a broodnest can be so small, I was waiting for them to get to fifteen or twenty bars, fortunately the problem did not get beyond simple repair. Since most of my hives were cut-outs they had straight comb to guide more straight comb. I only have two problem hives that I didn't check frequently enough, the broodnest on both hives is nice and straight for about five or six bars then the comb starts moving off center, after that it starts curving away from the brood at each end of a comb to form a C. Standard tbh 101 is to check comb building twice a week until the colony is well into honey production to prevent problems with cross comb. They seem to always start exactly on center though. Last year I had trouble with cross combing from the start with one hive due to an under represented comb guide (wax line in a saw kref) this year I built everything with nice 7/8" deep triangles, the comb is much more solid and the bees nearly always start exactly on center.
A strange thing happened with hive #11 (school house cut-out), When I installed it I knew I didn't have the queen there were a few eggs but I thought since #7 had so many QC's I may as well give them a head start since from egg to emergence a queen takes about sixteen days. Anyway I did an inspection today (July 12th) and found young brood, but no eggs, I also saw capped queen cells. The way I figure it given ideal conditions the queen emerged, mated (in the minimum time) started to lay eggs, then for some reason the bees ether killed her, she swarmed or she died. I asked them why they didn't like her but they only stared at me and buzzed.
Two of the swarms I caught this year decided to find other accommodations, I found their hives empty (this is not uncommon with swarms / package bees), both were installed into my new hive bodies, so I was thinking next time I should rub some beeswax on the inside to make the interior smell better to them.
All my hives are full thanks too one swarm, one nuc, two bait hives and seven cut-outs. Most of those hives have queens. Next year I wont do cut-outs after the first week of june, since hives are too big to manage after this time. I want to place more bait hives since it was a very exiting way to get bees.
Perspective is relative, sometimes a better solution to a problem is to change ourselves rather then everything else, for with a different perspective we ARE the problem. Understanding is the first step towards resolution, action is the next.
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
This week (July 4th onwards) looks to be very hot in excess of 35c!
On excessively hot muggy days bees will have to exit their hive to keep the inside the right temperature. Since they cool their hives by evaporation, humidity can inhibit the cooling process, that's why they hang off the front of their hives, to keep the inside a manageable temperature, since bees are cold blooded insects they cant control their blood temperature like humans, instead they ether flap their wings or vibrate their wing muscles cooling or warming the hive. On hot days they haul lots of water to the hive for evaporation cooling. On an individual scale if foraging when the temperature is to low (13c minimum) they take breaks to warm up by vibrating their wing muscles to heat up their bodies, when the temperature is to hot they will regurgitate some nectar for a bit of evaporative cooling during flight (or so I have read). Its quite a task for a cold blooded creature to stay the right temperature!
On July 4th I got a call that some one had a swarm in their tree, so I put a box in the car and took off, swarms are unpredictable, they sometimes stay for less then an hour, sometimes they stay longer up to a couple days, I was hoping they would wait long enough for me to get there. On my way to the swarm I ran into a parade and had to drive around it, why do people always have parades when I want to get somewhere? Don't they know that they are inconveniencing me? Doesn't the earth orbit me? (I looked it up the earth does indeed orbit the sun, not me!) As it turns out this swarm did wait for me, it was in an evergreen tree about twelve to fifteen feet up, I placed my little nuc box under it then cut the branch, bees fell mostly in the box mostly all over me, they started settling on another branch where the first had been so I cut this one as well with similar results, then I partially closed the box and watched to see what they would do. Well the ones on the ground started marching into my box! although they never all went inside (maby due to the heat) they did seem to have chosen a home, this notion of mine was further reinforced when the bees started getting aggressive, defending their home. So I left them for the day. In the evening I came back stapled screen over them and took them home. When I got home I moved them into a "nuc ready" hive that only has a six bar nuc at one end, so they are duplexing with my other bees, divider board in place, of cource, good fences make good neighbours after all.
While I was doing this I noticed that hive #9 was very inactive (was a small swarm with VQ) so I opened it to find out why, the answer was simple no bees! Just a small 3" by 2" comb, that is what absconding hives look like, the bees (sometimes for unknown reasons) just leave after installing a package or swarm, I'm wondering given the heat if the single hole I left for their entrance wasn't enough space for their tastes what I would realy like to know is were they went. Ahh well I had needed space for the bees I had just caught in my bait hive. Did I ever say how much I love bait hives? They are even better then swarms since all you have to do is close them up after dark and go!
Next year I am not doing cut outs, just bait hives swarms and nucs.
If anyone wants some bees and doesn't mind doing a little work there are about two more hives worth for the taking just send me an E-mail and we can arrange something. My E-mail is at the bottom of the site.
Friday, July 2, 2010
For a queen the maturation times are as follows: 3.5 days to hatch from an egg, cell is caped 8 days from the time it was laid (4.5 days from hatching), it emerges 16 days from being laid.
By this I know that the old queen was laying swarm eggs on the 18th of June. From looking back on my logs I noted on the 20th a large number of bees "hanging out" in the empty space at the far end of hive #7, I have seen this before with another hive just before they swarm. Next time I see this I will make a nuc with the old queen forcing an artificial swarm. I tried this with hive #3 since they to were gearing up for a swarm having laid eggs in a couple queen cups, I removed the old queen along with three bars of brood and honey, plus some extra bees effectively making a nuc. Upon inspection I found a LOT of queen cells something like eight or more, I also saw one was chewed out, and I saw a queen (probably virgin, un-mated) hopefully this means they are finished with swarming and she will continue destroying her competition until she is truly queen. What I find intriguing with these feral bees is their colony size, swarms seem to be numerous and small, instead of huge and few. I'm not sure if this factoid is dependant on weather, rationality, genetics or a combination. I have noticed that they overwinter in much smaller clusters then commercial bees. Another thing I have noticed is they don't seem to be held back very much for swarming since the swarms were on the small side. This is an interesting adaptation, swarm often but in small numbers, causing offspring to be widely distributed instead of massive numbers in few colonies.
One thing I find a bit confusing with hive #2 is the presence of capped queen cells, they look like they intend to swarm but have only just moved into their new hive! Something like two to three weeks, not enough bees in my opinion to consider swarming, if the hive raises new queens and the old queen doesn't want to swarm she will kill all the new queens. It could also be a supercedure but those are usually unplanned, these cells look planed, only thing I can to is watch them to see what they decide to do.
With hive #4 (was a mean mean hive) I installed on the 21st of June, four days latter I inspected them, I found a capped queen cell! That is only four days, if they used a one day old larva that means they started a new queen the same or next day from installation, I was expecting them to take a couple days to reorient themselves.
All this swarming businesses brings my hive count to ten, this was my goal for this year, I only have room for one or two more colonies, so next year if all goes well I expect to be building more hives.