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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Inspection Notes: A few brief notes and lots of rambling

I felt a bit guilty opening the hives today. They were sealed so tightly with propolis that it felt like breaking into Ft. Knox. However, the day was perfect, and all the guards were off-duty.

The propolis looks a bit like caramel to me. Way stickier and not nearly as tasty, though.

Bee carrying propolis

During the last inspection, the hives were overflowing with nectar. In the past nine days, though, a lot of that lovely honey has been eaten up. Conclusion: our summer dearth has begun. There was one exception, though: Princess Peach has proven to be a real peach. She alone is still packed full of nectar that positively drips out of the combs when I lift them. I don't know why she's able to bring in so much more nectar than the others, but I hope she survives the winter because I want more bees from her. 
As far as brood goes:
  • Peach's colony has exploded. There were tons of new bees. Lots of capped brood, larvae and eggs, too. 
  • Hippolyte and Bubblegum also had all stages of brood whereas they didn't last week. 
  • Austeja had no capped brood, but there were eggs and larvae. 
  • Persephone. I saw neither eggs nor brood in Persephone, but I did see Her Royal Highness again. Also, the bees are busy building comb, so I figure she simply needs another week. I probably just missed the eggs.

Persephone -- My Black Beauty, over on the right side of the photo.
She's super fast and camera-shy.

My real dilemma is deciding whether to continue feeding the splits. (Peach, Bubblegum, and Persephone have all been getting about a pint a week as a sort of insurance policy against starving while waiting for their queens to emerge.) If you'd asked me two months ago whether I should feed. I would've answered with an unqualified "yes" because these are new splits going through a dearth. However, the headache of trying to control swarming over the last two months has caused me to reevaluate my feelings about feeding. 

Frequently, I've heard people advising to feed during certain times, including:
  1. Settling in a new package.
  2. Supplementing a split that doesn't have many foragers
  3. During the fall to bring a hive up to winter weight
  4. During the winter to avoid starvation
  5. Stimulate brood production in late winter/early spring to take advantage of the main nectar flow
  6. During a dearth to maintain brood production
  7. Stimulate swarming in order to make packages/nucs/queens

Obviously, Reasons 1 & 7 don't apply to me. I don't have a package, and I don't want to stimulate swarming. In fact, a combination of feeding my packages during a strong nectar flow and not having time to manage them proactively is what got me into my current situation (lots of splits) to begin with. Reason 2 is a hard one to ignore. My hives are not yet as strong as I'd like; however, they are foraging. The remaining reasons all seem to revolve around manipulating the colony to achieve a particular size or weight. There is a certain sort of logic in those strategies, too. It stands to reason that if one has more bees that are the right age for foraging at the beginning of a flow, then one will collect more honey. If one has a certain amount of honey & bees, then the bees will have more to eat and stay warmer during winter. I get it.

On the other hand, I've been thinking a lot lately about how bee colonies expand and contract based on the amount of available resources. That's why nucs are able to survive the winter. No one has ever seen a 55-lb nuc (which is the recommended winter weight for my area). The bees simply know how much honey they need and how big the colony should be to get through the winter. Then they contract (or expand) to that size. A Swedish blogger that I follow frequently mentions how a fellow local beek of his overwinters colonies on 2 frames. Did I mention that he was Swedish? To me that's dumbfounding. I've been to Scandinavia -- they have some seriously cold weather up there!

Princess Peach's queen with capped brood and larvae

So, the main question I've been grappling with is how to balance my desires and goals for my hives. One doesn't get much honey off of two frames, and quite selfishly, I want honey. However, my primary goal is to have healthy bees. For me, "healthy" and "productive" are not necessarily synonymous. Obviously, I want my colonies to produce honey and to produce new bees, but not at the risk of their health. And that's my quandary -- Will my colonies fail to thrive (or worse, starve) if I don't feed them during this dearth? Is it healthy to stimulate bees by feeding them sugar? If I feed, will they swarm during this poor time of year?

Another issue compounding my dilemma is the fact that I'm not going to be around much for the next three weeks. I have a couple who will be house/dog-sitting for me, but they're not beeks, and I don't want to create a situation (because of feeding) that they'll have to deal with.

It's so easy doling advice out to others, but deciding on a course of action for myself is much harder.

Despite the dearth, I still see some nectar and pollen coming into the hives, and all of the hives have foragers, so I'm making the call to not feed. Wild bees don't get syrup -- it's do or die for them. I'm counting on that instinct in my own girls to see them through my absence. (It's still hard for me to admit that I need them far more than they need me.) However, if it turns out that I've made the wrong decision and things go pear-shaped, I should still have enough time before fall to rectify the situation before winter arrives.

Fingers crossed.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Persephone Gets a Makeover (Sort Of)

You may have noticed that I haven't posted any photos of Persephone yet. Partly, this is because I haven't made a proper roof for her yet (she has only a sheet of corrugated plastic at the moment), and it seemed unseemly to display her uncovered. After all, whenever Queen Elizabeth appears in public, she wears a hat at the very least.

The other reason is that she was hideous. Although I had plenty of yellow paint left, I was completely tired of that color. However, I didn't feel like going to the store, so I gave her an armload of spray paint cans and let her go to town. The resulting effect was... incongruous when compared to the other hives. However, when my daughter surveyed her work, she squealed with glee, "This is the most fun ever!!!"

Once fully painted, the hive needed a name, and Persephone seemed most appropriate. For starters, Persephone is associated with springtime abundance, which appealed to my sense of the auspicious. However, she is also the queen of the underworld, and the hive looked like hell.

Before.
This is why stores keep spray paint in locked cabinets.

My DH, though, likes orderliness in all things, and he has been bitterly complaining about Persephone's chaotic looks for the past couple of weeks. So at 5 am today, I stopped up the entrance and began painting over the graffiti. In a way, it's wonderful how beekeeping gives you opportunities to do the unimaginable. Certainly, I never thought I'd be standing in pitch blackness, flashlight in one hand, paintbrush in the other, smoker between my knees. Oh yes, I did need a smoker. Turns out that there was a small gap between a couple bars, so blocking the entrance was a waste of time. The bees still poured out, annoyed by the light and vibrations of the paintbrush trembling through their house.

During this process, I had an uncontrollable urge to listen to "Dancing in the Dark," though I sang my own lyrics, using a theme of "Painting in the Dark." I'll spare you the embarrassment of having to read them, though. You can thank me in the comments if you like. BTW, although bees can't hear, I don't think they appreciate The Boss as much as I do. Or perhaps, they just objected to my corny lyrics.

After. Ho hum yellow.
I feel like she's undergone a tattoo removal. 

Anyway, I finished up a first coat around quarter to 6, thinking the hive still looked like hell, but a yellow hell. It was nothing that another coat of paint couldn't sort out, though. By this time, my sister had woken up and was brewing coffee. She inquired about what I'd been up to and then said, "You know, it's supposed to rain this morning..."

Dang it, she's right. 30% - 60% chance of rain all day. Doh!

Took a trip to a local museum recently and saw this lovely piece of furniture
embellished with a pomegranate motif. This is my inspiration for
decorating Persephone... if I can ever get her painted.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Inspection Notes: Guest Inspector

My sister's family is visiting for awhile, and her son has been wanting to see the hives for awhile. He's my favorite nephew, so I did an inspection just for him.

My favorite (and only) nephew
Unfortunately, I forgot to take my camera out to the beeyard, which was just as well, because I was busy talking and pointing thing out to everyone, so my sis supplied today's photos.

Watching pollen come in

My son, nephew, and Dad all peeking through the observation window
Since 7 & 8 year olds don't have much of an attention span, especially when it's hot outside & they're covered head to toe & wearing winter boots (my nephew's idea), we started with a nuc. I chose to to begin with Peach since I knew she had some capped honey, which I let everyone taste right there in the bee yard. It was a pale golden color, very light and delicate in both color and flavor. Could it be basswood? Whatever it came from, it was just fantastic. Normally, I wouldn't take honey out of a nuc that was only half full, but the rest of the comb was overflowing with nectar, so we took this little bit as a special treat for the boys. 
   
Honey! Nom! Nom! Nom!


Of course, once they had a tub of honey, the guys ran away to strip off their hot clothing and to play video games in the comfort of air conditioning. I took just the quickest of peeks in the rest of the hives, mainly because I was already out there.

I discovered that the adage "You can make bees, or you can make honey" is true in more ways than one. Usually, it applies to making lots of splits or packages vs. keeping large colonies that can pack away nectar during a flow. However, I also discovered that during a brood break, the bees having nothing else to do, store crazy amounts of nectar.  Of course, we're having an amazing flow this year so I'm sure that's contributing factor, but nearly every cell in every hive was overflowing with liquid gold.

As for brood, I didn't do full inspections, but Peach was the only hive that showed any signs of brood or eggs. They were a bit sparse, which is not unusual for a new queen, though in a good pattern. So although I still haven't seen her majesty, I know for a fact that Peach is queenright. As for the other hives, I'm not yet worried about a lack of brood. It might be another week or two yet.

The other day, I mentioned hearing Persephone piping, and I did find her. I really wished I had my camera (or that my sister hadn't gone off for a nap) because she was positively striking. Actually, I almost missed her because she was so dark and shadowy. She was completely jet black except for the sliveriest (yes, I'm making that word up) of golden bands circling her abdomen. Very fitting for a bee named after the queen of the underworld, I thought.

Austeja's sororicidal queen was also still piping and hunting for capped queen cells. I didn't do a full inspection on her either, but I saw one remaining capped queen cell, though there might have been more on other bars. The other queen cells were either open or in the process of being cleaned out. This has me wondering -- do queens wait until they've murdered all their rivals before taking a mating flight? I've heard that a new queen can take up to 15 day to perform a mating flight. I know weather is one reason to delay a flight. However, I was also wondering if she needs to get rid of any possible competition before taking off. Does anyone know the answer?

Future beekeepers, I hope
Oh! I nearly forgot! My husband and I have had a long-standing debate about the lawn. He likes short, mown Kentucky bluegrass. I like tall flowering weeds. This argument has resulted in a lawn with crop circles. Yesterday, though, I let him taste some clover honey out of Austeja. A couple hours later he said to me, "I used to think you were just being crazy, but you've won me over. I'm on board with planting clover in the yard now." Hallelujah! I have a convert!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Music to My Ears

About 7:30 this morning, my DH burst into my office to warn me that Austeja was going crazy. Quick as a flash, I zoomed outside only to find that the frantic behavior he had described had mostly subsided. A glance through the observation window displayed about the number of bees I'd expected to find, and the bees at the entrance were all bringing in a lovely dark reddish orange pollen. My guess is that a lot of bees were doing orientation flights.

However, since I was outside already, I checked Persephone's feeder. There has been very little activity at the entrance of that hive since I split them last week. I thought maybe they were low on foragers and were taking syrup. In fact, very little syrup had been used, so I'm not sure what's going on there. However, as soon as I opened the hive, I heard a queen piping. Her pitch seemed much lower to me than the queen I heard piping last week. That was sort of a surprise. I suppose I guessed all queens must sound the same, but in retrospect, that's a silly assumption. Why shouldn't they be different and individuals in their own right?

I didn't want to bother the bees too much this morning since I have an inspection planned for Sunday. Instead, I closed them up and let them get on with things. They appear to know what they're doing.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Inspection Notes: Three Queens

This has been a crazy busy summer. Because of all the swarm cell action I've been having, I had meant to put out a new KTBH and do an inspection by Wednesday last week. Instead, my newest KTBH didn't get set out until about 2:30 Saturday afternoon (and she still doesn't have a proper roof.) Then we had to get ready for a wedding, so the inspection waited until yesterday. Sigh.

Yesterday turned out to be a lovely day for a look-see into the hives. It was warm, but the sky was a bit overcast. Although that made it too difficult for me to see whether there were any eggs, it was nice not broiling for a change. Also, I had to work as quickly as possible because it did feel like rain was coming (though happily the rain waited until after I was done.)

Hippolyte
Her numbers seemed a lot lower to me. Can't tell if that's because she hasn't had much new brood for a while, if it's because she's had so many bars and bees taken out of her for the other nucs, or if it's because she's swarmed.

I did find a queen, though. I'm hoping this is a new queen and that I got the old one when I made a split into Peach. I really don't know, though, for sure.

Her Royal Highness
In any case, it appears that a number of the queen cells had been opened, though there were still a few remaining as well. What the heck does that mean???

Opened and unopened queen cells
Peach
There was a lot of nectar stored in the combs, but I didn't see any new comb building. Also, I didn't find the queen, which was weird given that I looked twice, and all the queen cells had been broken down. Not quite sure what to make of that. Dare I hope that her majesty was out on a mating flight?

You can see where some queen cells used to be on that lump.


Bubblegum
Princess Bubblegum is the nuc I split out last week. She seems to be doing quite well. She's started building new comb and filling it with nectar. She also has a queen! As I said, it was too overcast for me to tell if there were eggs, but I really didn't notice any in any of the hives yesterday.

Tiny bit of new comb

Her Majesty

Austeja
As an aside to these inspection notes, while we were at the wedding on Saturday, we were introduced to a couple that had traveled all the way from Lithuania to attend. My husband casually mentioned, "My wife has a bee hive with a Lithuanian name. Austeja." They were so shocked to discover that anyone would choose a Lithuanian name or even knew about a Lithuanian bee goddess or their love of honey, and that sparked a wonderful new friendship for us. Ah, you can always count on bees for making friends.

Anyway, I had been crossing my fingers that the few queen cells I had found last week were merely supersedure cells. Turns out that this week, I had 8 bars of swarm cells. Dagnabit. I just can't catch a break.

Additionally, it appeared that there were about half the number of bees in there this week. I know the brood laying has tapered off significantly in that hive over the last couple of weeks, but half??? I suspect they swarmed before I could put out my Warre bait hive. Or maybe they just didn't like that hive.

On the other hand, I did find the queen. I also got to experience a very cool thing -- she was piping. She reminds me of an oboe. Hopefully, it's not too disrespectful to think that of a monarch.

My ruthless ruler
I left 3 bars with queen cells in that hive since she appeared to be making short work of her competition. However, I moved 5 bars with queen cells to my newest hive.

Persephone
Sadly, I didn't take any pictures of her. However, I simply moved 8 bars of queen cells, brood, pollen and honey into her. Left some thin syrup and closed her up. I was out of jars, but I'll scrounge up a few more today and add some water as well.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Do Warre -- Bee Happy

Ok, after the horribly punny title, I deserve to be shot, but hopefully, not before introducing Empress Josephine! (In honor of Abbe Warre, we have a French queen this time. Plus, there's her connection to Napoleon whose symbol was a honeybee. :-) Very full circle, no?) Sadly, I haven't had time to add her crown  yet because I've been overloaded with work and prepping for houseguests. Her coronation will have to wait until I've got more spare time.

Don't look too closely. She's got a million flaws, but I  still love her.

The KTBH nuc I built last week and Josephine are my first two real woodworking projects. (My DH only just taught me how to use a table saw to rip top bars last May!) In any case, I'm very fond of my new nuc and hive even though they're both particularly fine examples of extremely poor craftsmanship.

As a first project for a shop dummy (I consider the Warre my first real project because I had actual plans to follow -- not like the nuc that I winged), it was pretty easy, and it went together really quickly (especially since I didn't allow myself to get bogged down by details like QC.)

Warre's original plans use metric units, but I didn't have a metric ruler, so I used plans by David Heaf that call for English measurements. These plans can be downloaded from warre.biobees.com. For the most part, it's not too hard interpreting the drawing, but there are some really weird measurements like 13 25/32" -- Seriously? I'm supposed to measure that? Before I make my next People's Hive (yes, another one is being planned), I think I'm going to make templates for each piece so that I don't have to keep figuring out these funky fractions.

In his book, Warre describes two types of roofs. The simpler design is a flat top, whereas the harder one is peaked. Of course, I chose the harder one of the two because it's so pretty! It really was the most difficult part of the project. I goofed the angle cuts on the roof, so the bar that's supposed to fit over the top didn't fit quite right. To compensate, at my husband's brilliant suggestion, I angled the sides of the top piece and wedged it in. Caulk filled the cracks along the top board. Well, I meant to fill them with paintable caulk anyway. Instead, I could only find non-paintable silicone in the garage. In any case, it's watertight.

Also, the plans don't really indicate how the bar that makes the roof ridge is supposed to fasten to the roof. Again, my DH came to the rescue. He suggested some plastic spacers. I screwed right through the roof ridge through the spacers down into the roof.

Roof ridge wedged into place and screwed into a plastic spacer.

In the spirit of incompetence and general half-a$$edness with which I approached this project, I did not measure the gaps between the bars. Instead, I just eyeballed the distance between them (is that my husband groaning?) and stuck in some pushpins to sort of keep the bars apart. Anyway, when some bees move in, I expect they'll propolise the bars into place.

Bars with pushpin "spacers"

The entrance was also a bit a tricky. The plans call for cutting a 4 3/4" notch in the bottom board. I wasn't quite sure how to make the notch, so I used a dado head cutter to nibble out the opening. However, then I felt the opening was too big (maybe I'm just too used to my 3/4" TBH openings), so I glued in a small piece of wood to narrow it a bit. Probably I shouldn't have deviated from the plan, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed and hoping for the best.

In the interest of time, I skipped observation windows. However, that's something I'll definitely do next time. Since Warres aren't supposed to get opened often, the windows seem helpful for non-invasive hive inspections.

Oh, I almost forgot! I made my very first jig! In his book, Warre describes making/using one to apply wax to the bars. I didn't refer to his sketch for the jig, but mine is probably close. Basically, I took a top bar and nailed it (lengthwise) to a piece of wood. To use it, I just slide a bar in and pour wax down the middle. Note that that the bar part of the jig is slightly off-center so that when I slide in a bar, a bit less than half of it is covered. For once, this off-centeredness isn't mere sloppiness on my part. I deliberately designed it that way so that the wax gets centered instead of being off to the side.

Jig is a bar nailed to a piece of wood.
Bar slides right in under the bar part of the jig.
Bars with wax

Finally, I put a bit of starter comb on one bar in each box. A common issue I've heard with Warres is that the bees don't want to move down to the next box. As a result, they become cramped and start swarming. I'm hoping that a bit of starter comb will overcome any possible reluctance on their part to build downward.

A little bit of starter comb for each box.

I was hoping that Austeja was just building supersedure cells, but it turns out that she's getting ready to swarm. I can see lots of new queen cells through the observation window. I'm going to try splitting her today if I can get to it. However, in the event that I can't, Josephine has been baited with some lemongrass oil and set out on the other side of my lawn, away from my "beeyard." Fingers crossed.

Waiting for a swarm... and her crown. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Making Top Bars

Updated: Corrected error. Added a link to post on making wedged bars.

Lately, it seems that I've lived, breathed, and dreamed about making hives. So today, I figured I'd talk about making top bars. There are so many ways to make them, that I thought it would be helpful to talk about a couple of issues, including:
  • Width
  • Comb guides

Width

When it comes to width, I've noticed a few different styles:
  • 1 1/4" brood bars with 1 1/2" honey bars. Some people use two different sized bars -- 1 1/4" bars in their brood area and 1 1/2" honey bars. 1 1/4" bars encourage bees to build smaller brood combs and have more combs in their brood nest. This means that at any given time, the bees will cover more brood. On the downside, a lot of people find this system kind of confusing/inconvenient because they aren't sure when/how to insert the honey bars, or they feel confused when bees start storing honey in the brood nest.

    Personally, if I used 1 1/4" bars, I'd skip making a different size honey bar. Instead, I'd just make 1/4" spacers and add those when I saw bees building out honeycomb.
  • 1 3/8" bars. Some people split the difference between 1 1/4" and 1 1/2" bars and use all 1 3/8" bars. I confess that I'm one of these people. For me, it's just easier to cut bars all to the same size, and I don't worry so much about losing a finger while cutting 1/4" inserts.

    Personally, I haven't had any issue with this size, though I've heard that with wider bars, one gets more drone comb and fewer brood combs. 
  • 1 1/2" bars. I've heard of some people going with all 1 1/2" bars. As a personal observation, though, it appears that they've also mentioned a lot more cross-combing and crooked comb. Perhaps, if you have a different experience with this size, you might drop a line in the comments and tell me how you think it works out.

Comb Guides

Comb guides are an important feature of top bars because they give the bees an indication of where you'd like them to build. They don't always take the hint, of course, but stilll... 


Line of Wax

Some people make comb guides that are as simple as a line of wax poured onto the underside of the bar. From what I've heard, though, the wax doesn't always adhere very well to the bar.

Waxed String

This method is just a variation on a line of wax. Some folks dip a length of string in wax and then set that on the underside of the bar. Again, this is a quick and easy comb guide. However, I've heard of at least one person who said that his bees just chewed up the string and spit it out! That doesn't really surprise me, though, because I've noticed my own bees chewing rough patches of wood in the hive to smooth them out. They're a bit anal that way.

Image from:
http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-aVmz-ADBRy0/URkHA8_CFXI/AAAAAAAAK3I/dh7hZzRyrBA/s400/IMG_0617.JPG
Personally, I like how this guy does his strings. He put the string on the bar and uses a soldering iron
to melt wax over the string.


Kerf

Some people use a kerf as a comb guide. Unlike wax lines/waxed strings, they help the bees understand exactly where to build, but they're still very easy to do. Just make a shallow groove with your table saw down the center of your bar and glue in some popsicle sticks. Other folks melt a bit of wax foundation into the groove. 
Image from:
http://www.beekeepingforums.com/attachment.php?attachmentid=6752&d=1403644435&thumb=1


Although I don't use this method, I like that the kerf gives the bees a lot of surface area for attaching comb. Greater surface area = stronger comb attachment.

The only drawback to this method is that you need to make sure that the kerf is attached very tightly because otherwise they can fall out. When this happens with a full comb, the resulting mess is not pretty.

Wedge Combs

Personally, I like wedge combs because like kerfs, they provide greater attachment area and they provide the bees with a very definite idea of where to build. There are two ways to get a wedge onto your bar.

Attach a wedge: One way to get a wedge onto your bar is to staple/nail/glue wedge-shaped pieces (some people use half-round trim instead) onto your bar.
Create a wedge: The "gold standard" in top bars are one-piece bars that are created with a wedge. I like using this kind of bar, and surprisingly, they really aren't that much work to do. It's a little tedious making measuring the angles and making adjustments to get all the cuts right, but once you set the blade, you just have to run all your bars (all 30+ of them), through the saw.

To create one-piece wedged bars, this is how I do it (though if you have a different method, please, feel free to share). Sorry I don't have pics (forgot to take them), but hopefully, these diagrams will give you a good idea of how I make them:
  1. Find the center point on each side (red lines).
  2. Draw lines (blue lines) from the center along each side to the bottom center. 
  3. Angle your saw blade and cut along the lines (blue lines).
  4. Using a stacked dado head cutter, I nibble out the ends of the bars so that they sit flat on the hive.
I've provided more detail and photos on my process in this post on making one-piece wedged top bars.
Oops. Step 3 should say "angle finder," not "compass."
You don't have to do any hiking to make these bars.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Inspection Notes: I Gotta Split

I know it's only been 5 days since the last inspection, but I decided to dive into the hives again today because I've been freaking all week over the swarm cells I found. In fact, between Tuesday and today, I've built a new TBH nuc. I've also been working on a Warre, which is 90% complete. Ugh, if you could put all the sawdust I've inhaled this week back together, you could probably get a small piece of furniture.

Some capped honey from Hippolyte

Hippolyte & Peach
I was hoping that splitting Hippolyte and making a new nuc (Peach) would be enough to suppress the swarming instinct and they'd break down the queen cells on their own. Ah, I'm such an optimistic dreamer! Contrary to my hopes, Hippolyte had capped all her swarm cells, and there were quite of lot of them on two different combs. No eggs or larvae. Only a tiny bit of new comb, which was full of honey, on one of the bars that I added.

Capped queen cells

Peach didn't have any eggs or larvae either. Since I didn't spot the queen today, I still have no idea where she is. Peach had also capped all her swarm cells, so she had queen cells on 4 different bars.  Ugh. Fearing that the bees might swarm anyway despite the split, I decided to make yet another split.



New nuc -- Princess Bubblegum
The new TBH nuc (which our kids chose to name after a character in one of our favorite shows) definitely came in handy. I moved two bars that had capped queen cells from Peach to Bubblegum. I also moved some stores and bees from Hippolyte to Bubblegum.

My daughter wanted a picture of young Bubblegum,
But I love the wonderfully psychotic Peppermint Butler.

Finally, I popped a little bit of syrup into both Peach and Bubblegum since they don't really have any foragers before closing them up.
I added a drop of blue food coloring so that
I can tell the sugar syrup from the honey.

Austeja
Because Austeja was getting too crowded, I opened up her brood nest a lot on Tuesday. However, she hasn't built any new comb on the empty bars. Also, I saw very little open larvae and even fewer eggs, but there were large patches of comb that looked recently vacated. Hmmm...

Austeja also had a number of queen cups. Most of them were empty, but there was one on a comb toward the middle of the bars that contained a larva. Another comb toward the entrance had one capped queen cell, one queen cup with a larva, and one cup with an egg.

I feel a bit, torn, though, trying to decide whether these are swarm cells or supersedure cells. Prior to picking up the bees in May, I had been given a choice. I could pick up in May, but I'd get an older queen, or I could pick up in June and get a newer queen. Being recklessly impatient (and having experienced a trouble-free supersedure last year), I chose an older queen in May. So... I think this could go either way, but since there were only 4 cells with eggs/brood (instead of dozens), my instinct tells me this is a supersedure. I'll check again in 4-5 days just to be sure. What if they turn out to be swarm cells, though??? Oh, saints preserve us -- I need more backup hives!


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Tabasco Fiasco

In response to a post about the best remedy or a bee sting, someone commented that he'd gotten excellent results by alternately applying heat and cold. I proposed some naive theory about why that might work, and he answered:

Hmmmm.. oddly I haven't thought about the mechanism of action. Strange since I used to lecture in a medical school on anti-inflammatory pharmacology. Perhaps there is some crossover with TRP ion channels. These act as monitors of heat and are what are activated by capsaicin in chilli peppers and menthol in toothpaste (though they are slightly different TRP channels; TRPV1 for Chilli/heat, TRPM8 for menthol/cold). Anyone fancy whacking some Tabasco sauce on their next beesting..... go on... it's all in the name of science!.... plus it might be funny :)
OK, I know that was a joke, but I'm dumb enough to take that challenge anyway. Besides, I'm curious, in every sense of the word. :)

Today, I was stung 3 (THREE) times by some grouchy girls. One sting didn't swell at all. One swelled a tiny bit, but there was no discomfort associated with it. The third hurt like the dickens, and started swelling almost immediately. I figured it was perfect for a test. Anything for science, right?

After a bit of rummaging, I discovered that I was plumb out of Tabasco. I did have some rooster sauce handy, though, which I applied liberally to the back of my wounded appendage.

Initially, the sauce felt amazing, but I think that's because it came straight out of the fridge, and the coolness of it was oh so soothing. After 20 minutes of walking around like a doofus with chili sauce on my hand and listening to my kids exclaim, "Augh! What is that stench?!" nothing happened. The pain and swelling were no better. On the other hand (well, actually the same hand, but you know what I mean), the peppers didn't worsen the pain either. Maybe the vinegar in the sauce was doing something??? 

Ah well, it was a handsome attempt, but that's one hypothesis that can be ditched.

Obviously, the hot sauce yielded no positive results,
but you gotta "hand" it to me for trying. ;)

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Inspection Notes: She can wiggle, she can wobble, she can do the splits

It's been eight days since our last inspection. It turns out that bees can do a lot in eight days.

Hippolyte

I've had a nuc lying around for awhile, and I've been on the fence about whether to split Hippolyte or not. We've just passed our 5-week anniversary (sounds silly, but that's about 1/3 of a lifetime for a bee!), and plenty of pollen and nectar are coming in, so this would be a good time to do it. On the other hand, we could just let them build and maybe get a wee bit of honey this fall.

As I began today's inspection with my eldest child, the world's most awesome assistant, I asked him what he wanted to do. Should we make bees or honey? "Bees," he said. So with that possibility in mind, we opened the hive. Very quickly, I discovered that we didn't have a choice.

My Amazons were backfilling all the drone comb that I'd moved to the back of the hive last week, which was well and good. Then I noticed something troubling. They were backfilling brood comb, too. There was very little larvae, and I didn't see any eggs. Even more troubling, we pulled out a comb with queen cups, a LOT of queen cups.

Empty queen cups.
But these were all along the edge of the comb.
Capped queen cell. Sorry for the blurriness.
Hippolyte is left with 4 bars of brood, including capped queen cell.
Inserted 3 empty bars.

Normally, I'm not bothered by queen cups because I've learned though experience that they're a normal part of the hive. Some bees just like to have them around. So I check for eggs/larvae, and if I don't see any, I just keep going. I didn't notice any brood or larvae in the cups we pulled, but the sheer number of them in conjunction with the lack of eggs/brood and all of the honey made me nervous.

Sure enough, as we kept inspecting, every other bar in the brood nest was laced with queen cups -- but these were full of larvae and eggs. They reminded me of pom-poms hanging off the edges of the comb. We even found a capped queen cell.

Unfortunately, what we didn't find was the queen. Ideally, I would've liked to move the bar with the queen to the nuc and left the capped queen cell in the hive. However, since we couldn't locate her, I moved the brood bars that were closest to the entrance to the nuc. I picked those bars because that's where the queen tends to hang out during inspections, and I was crossing my fingers that we'd simply missed her. I also added some comb with honey and shook some additional bees into the nuc. Finally, I put branches over the nuc entrance to force any exiting bees to re-orient themselves.

Peach, covered in maple branches

Peach has 5 bars of brood
(which are backfilled with honey and pollen).
Also a honey bar. All brood bars have occupied queen cups.
Fingers crossed I got the queen in the nuc and the bees get rid of all the larvae in the queen cups. BTW, all of the bars that I put into the nuc have queen cups with larvae, so I'm hoping that if I didn't get the queen in there, they can raise a new one. The capped queen cell is in the hive with a lot of new empty bars. My hope is that if the queen is still in the hive, the extra space will suppress swarming. But if they're queenless, they should have a laying queen within the next 2 1/2 weeks.

My fear is that Hippolyte still swarms. Given that we didn't notice any queen cups in this hive 8 days ago, I'm guessing I have about 7 +/- days to prepare a contingency plan. I figure I'll start daubing lemongrass oil on some branches I'd like the bees to swarm to. My plans for building a few Warre hives have also been bumped up the priority list. Anyone want to guess how I'll be spending the July 4th holiday?

Austeja

Austeja has also been a busy girl backfilling comb with honey and packing pollen in like there's no tomorrow. There were a few patches of eggs and larvae, but again, she was seriously out of space for new brood.

Lots and lots of pollen
Although I didn't see any swarm cells, she looked like she was starting to get honey bound. I figured she needed to be opened up pronto. She had comb on 18 bars, and I added 7 empty ones to make room.

Btw, both hives have been put on a diet. No more sugar syrup!

I ran out of yellow pushpins.
Pretty much every bar was being backfilled with honey.

Some bragging and a little bit of schadenfreude

Since I was starting with packages this year, I really didn't expect to worry about swarming until next year. I certainly didn't expect the kind of explosive growth that I've witnessed in just over 5 weeks. All the credit for that goes to the bees, and I'm so proud of them! They're great little ladies!

With that said, the claws are coming out, so if you want to avoid the cat fight, stop reading. You have been warned. Meow! ;-)

A neighbor of mine keeps Langs. Though he's always polite about my TBHs, he's been quite frank about his disregard for them. Of course, I understand his position because he has a different goal in mind. His aim is lots and lots and lots of honey, so Langs are a good choice for him. Also, he grew up around an uncle who was a professional beekeeper, so that's what he knows and understands. I get that, but that's not what I necessarily want from my own beekeeping experience.

Today, I popped over during his inspection. (Fine, I admit that I spotted him in his bee jacket from the street as I pulled into my drive, and I totally intruded because I was curious about Langs. Never seen a real live one inspected up close before.) I asked how he felt the hives were doing, and he told me how pleased he was with the progress of his bees.

Not having any experience with Langs personally, I'm sure he was right. However, because I'm used to seeing "walls" of bees building comb in a TBH, I was surprised at how empty the hive was. He started with two nucs about 3 1/2 weeks ago, and they were more than half empty. The bees seemed kind of disorganized on the foundation, and there was barely any comb on it. That's how it looked from my perspective anyway because my own experience is very different. Last year, I started a TBH from a nuc and by the end of three weeks, the front half of my hive was chock full of comb, and I had so many bees that they were doing serious bearding. I know that bees draw comb faster without foundation, but seeing his mostly empty brood box dramatically illustrated to me just how fast bees can really work when mostly left to their own devices.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that Langs are bad and TBHs are good. Different hives are better for different personalities and goals. However, I finally feel validated in my choice of hive. I wanted something that would be easy for me to manage and a bit of honey for the family, but I also wanted something that would allow the bees to work more "naturally." Comparing our different experiences, I can definitely say that I've made the right choice for me.