Monday, May 25, 2009

Population Explosion

Population explosion! That's what we were hoping for this past week. Since it takes 21 days from egg laying for an adult bee to emerge, we were just a few days short of seeing new bees during our last inspection, which occurred at about 22 days after the colonies were installed in their hives. (We figure it took a few days for the bees to draw enough comb for the queens to start laying.) With all that capped brood we had been seeing for a couple of weeks we were excited for all those new bees to start making their way out into the world.

One day last week- round about the 19th of May- we suddenly saw what looked like hundreds of bees outside the hives. It looked like they were all facing the hives flying left and right and up and down. This would be their orientation flight. The first time a bee leaves the hive they have to orient themselves to the hive so they can find it again. Somehow this orientation flight in front of the hive sets the little GPS in their brains so they can fly straight back to the hive even after they have been foraging 2 to 3 miles away. I tell you bees are amazing creatures! All those bees doing orientation flights could not have been the result of new bees emerging from their cells. They must have been bees from eggs that were laid shortly before the packages were sent to us. Bees do not leave the hive until about day 18 if their adult life. Worker bees go through several stages in which they have different responsibilities. You can read more about that here if you would like. But, bees have been emerging from their cells and entering the world. It's a good thing too. The hive populations were getting pretty low but they should be growing on a daily basis, now.

As we got in to the inspection we found the old comb, where the capped brood used to be, had been vacated and new eggs were sitting in its place. There still was, of course, more capped brood and larvae in other parts of the comb. The comb that was once white now ranges from yellow to yellowish brown. We are assuming that the color change is from the pollen that the bees are bringing in. We are not sure, however, if they are still producing white comb that gets coated with pollen or if they are actually producing a different color comb from the pollen and nectar they are eating.

Other than more bees, neither Virginia nor Georgia had changed much from the previous week. With such low populations of bees there were just not enough bees to build comb on more frames. So Virginia still has most of the bottom deep filled with comb and a couple of frames in the upper deep and Georgia still has about 5 frames filled with comb in her single deep hive body. We will see where we go from here as more bees are "born".

One item worth noting in Georgia's hive was a peculiar looking cell. It looked a little too large to be a drone cell but not sure that it looked quite like a queen cell. Queen cells are cells in which queen bees develop. They are larger than drone cells and droop down- almost like a peanut. Like this:

We did not take this picture- we borrowed it from

Worker bees can "make" a queen from any egg (except a drone egg) they choose. They just have to feed the larvae Royal Jelly, a substance nurse bees produce, and viola! A queen is born!

There are two reasons workers would make a new queen. If the bees are out of room and the hive is too crowded, the workers will produce a new queen and the old queen will take half of the colony and "swarm". They will take off and find a new place to live. This would cut our colony and honey production in half. Not a good situation. These swarm cells typically show up on the bottom third of the frames. The other reason they might want a queen would be to replace the current queen. If the current queen is not getting the job done and laying the proper number or types of eggs, the workers might want to "supercede" her. These supercedure cells typically show up on the upper two thirds of the frames.

Now this cell that we saw in Georgia's hive was on the bottom of the frame- I think. This would make it a swarm cell. But Georgia has plenty of room with only 5 frames drawn out in comb. We have wondered about Georgia's queen as she is lagging behind Virginia and thought that the workers might want to supercede her. In any case, if it even was a queen cell, we figured it would still be there next week and we could take a better look and decide what to do about it at that time. But let's be optimistic and, for now, say that it is just a drone cell and all is well.

Last of all- we have found our new smoker fuel! We switched form natural fiber twine to cedar chips from a bag of pet litter we got at the grocery store. We got a few coals going in the bottom and packed in the cedar chips. It smoked well the entire time! When the chips got a little low it was easy to put in another handful. Besides that, the smoke just smelled so good!

We will inspect again later this week and update some more then. Bye.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Photos Of Comb On Frames

So we thought that we would show some progression from an empty frame to a frame fully drawn with comb. If you click on the photos you can see a close up view. Sorry that some are a little blurry- we need a better camera.

Here is an empty frame from the side of the deep hive body. The bees start with the center frames and word their way out.

Here the bees have just started to draw comb on the frame. There is a chunk of burr comb on the edge that was eventually scraped off.

The bees are making progress on this frame.

I thought this photo was kind of cool. You can really see the shapes of the cells. More progress has been made and the cells are deeper on the upper right part of the frame where the bees are clustered together.

A fully drawn frame. It contains capped brood, some pollen, and some sugar syrup stores.

This photo shows some larvae (circled in red) down at the bottom of the frame. I know- we need a better camera.

This photo shows a couple of drone cells (circled in red). Yeah- I know- we need a better camera.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Pollen, Stings, and Double Deeps

People have been asking what has been going on hive-wise, so it is time for another installment in the on-going drama of our relationship with Virginia and Georgia.

We are a little slow with this update as we did the last hive inspection last Thursday the 14th of May. Everything went well. We are getting used to the whole process so there were few surprises.

We will start, however, with a few observations from the week prior to the last inspection. First of all, we noticed A LOT of comings and goings from the hives as the fruit trees in town have been in full bloom. It has mostly been apple and crabapple trees. In our own yard the apple tree and pear tree have been full of bees! We have been told by a few people in our part of town, who were not even aware that we had started keeping bees, that they had noticed a lot more bees than usual in the fruit trees. Yes! Our girls are making the rounds!

As we watched them returning to the hives we have continured to notice different colors of pollen. We have thus far noticed dark orange, light yellow, cream, tan, and white pollen on the returning bees. We have watched the bees foraging on our apple and pear blossoms to see what color they gather from our own trees. The apple pollen looks white and the pear pollen looks like an off-white greenish color. Very strange if you ask me.

We started preparing for the inspection by lighting up the smoker. It has been giving us problems- we can't seem to keep it lit long enought to get throught the whole inspection. We are getting it figured out though, and this time we kept it going for almost the entire time. We start it going with paper and twigs to get some coals in the bottom and then add balls of natural fiber twine. We have researched alternative smoker fuels and have come across a few people who use pet litter cedar chips. We will try that this week and let you know how it goes.

Keep in mind that Virginia had graduated to a second deep hive body the week before, so her inspection took a little longer than it had in the past. After smoking, we got in and inspected the top hive body. The bees had moved up and drawn comb on 3 of the 1o frames, and the queen had laid eggs on a couple of the frames. There were still not a ton of bees here. Most were still down in the bottom part of the hive.

Down in the bottom deep we were hoping to see mature bees emerging from there cells where they had been transforming from larve to adults, but all the brood was still capped. As we thought about that later, we realized that we were getting ahead of ourselves. We counted up the days and it had only been 22 days since we installed the packages. It takes about 21 days after the egg is lad for a mature bee to emerge from it's cell. A little more if the weather is cool and a little less if the weather is warm. Our weather had not been above 65 for most of that time. I'm sure it took a few days for the bees to draw a little comb so the queen could start laying any eggs. We fully anticipate that we will see new bees when we do this week's inspection. Actually, the bee populations should have been at their lowest point during the last inspection. Worker bees have a life span of about 6 weeks. So over the past 3 weeks since the bees were installed bees were dying off withoug being replaced. I suppose that means that the population of each hive had been reduced by about half. Now it is time to start building our numbers back up!

Besides capped brood on the frames we saw lot of pollen- all different colors. As bees fill cells with pollen it looks like they pack it in the bottom until it becomes little pollen cakes. We came across one cell that was empty except for two little balls of dark orange pollen- a bee must have just popped their pollen baskets into that cell and had not yet packed it down or whatever it is they do. We also saw that the bees are capping the sugar syrup we have been feeding them. It doesn't look like they had actually started making honey yet- we were a little disappointed. We thought that with all of the fruit trees we might see some honey in there. Maybe it takes a greater population to gather enough nectar to make a significant amount of honey. We were a little worried that we wouldn't be able to tell the difference between capped honey and capped brood, but after seeing the capped sugar syrup the difference is obvious. Hopefully some of the pictures turned out well enough and you can see for yourself.

By the time we made it through both hive bodies the bees were getting ticked. I guess you can get through one hive body quickly enough to not bother them too much, but 2 hive bodies just takes too long. We found a few attempted stings on my back where bees left their stingers in my shirt and died in the process. Poor little girls- they gave their lives in the defense of their home! We quickly put Virginia back together and moved on to Georgia.

Georgia's bees had drawn comb on a few more frames but still not enough to add a second deep hive body. As we inspected her capped brood we discovered a few drone cells where, obviously, drones were developing into adult bees. Drones are a little larger than worker bees and drone cells are a little larger too. They are very noticable because their caps bulge out forming a dome. Georgia, like Virginia, had lots more eggs and larvae but not much more that was particularly interesting. We closed her back up and are hoping that maybe this week we can add a second deep hive body.

Since that inspection, there has been one exciting event- we had our first bee sting! Some friends were over the other evening and the kids were running around outside. One of the kindergarten aged kids got stung on his finger. From what we could gather with everyone talking at once, he was holding a bee and then freaked out a little. Bees don't like freak outs so it stung right where it was sitting. All is well now, though. It only hurt for a few minutes. Bee stings always feel better when they quit hurting.

It looks like the fruit tree bloom is about over. Dandelions are still blooming (do they ever stop?) just not in such large numbers as they were. We don't know what the next bloom/nectar flow will be. We assume there will always be some sort of nectar/pollen source for the bees. We get a little nervous sometimes, though.

The hive inspection this week hopefully will happen on Wednesday after our niece's wedding. Congratulations Rachael! Provided there is enough time before we have to get ready for the reception that night.

We will try to keep you posted. See you later!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Photos From The Second Inspection

The smoker is going and we are getting ready to dive in.

Inspecting a frame.

A close up of one of the frames. The bees are in the process of drawing comb on this frame. You can see pollen being stored.

Close up of another frame completely covered in comb. The solid area of comb in the uppper center part of the photo is capped brood.

We scraped out just a few bits of burr comb during this second inspection.

Virginia on the left and Georgia on the right. The bees are happily back in their hives. Virginia had drawn comb on 7 of the 10 frams and so had graduated to a second deep hive body.

Burr Comb

The bits of burr comb in these pictures were taken from the hives during the first inspection.

Smallish bits of burr comb scraped from the tops f the frames and sides of the hives. You can see pollen the bees had stored. The shiny stuff inside some of the cells is sugar syrup from the feeder.

The largest piece of burr comb we have come across. This one was hanging down from the top between two frames. The gap between the frames was created by the queen cage we installed when the bees were first put into the hives. Since then we have pushed those frames together. We don't expect to get anymore pieces like this. At least we don't hink we will. But what do we know?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Inspection number two and other thoughts

We are back.

The weather has been beautiful lately with highs in the 60's most days. Things are really greening up here in the valley but there is still a line a snow across the tops of the Big Horns. Waht a beatutiful view! The apple and the pear trees are just starting to blossom. It should be great for the bees and the bees should be great for the fruit harvest.

Speaking of fruit harvest, we decided to get another apple tree and a couple of cherry trees for the backyard. We had the spots picked for 3 small trees. We bought a Black Tartarian Cherry, a Stella Cherry, and a Honey Crisp Apple. All are semi-dwarf trees so, we thought they would be nice and small- I guess we should have done more research before we got them. After reading about them we found out that they will all grow to about 15 feet in height with a 12 foot spread. Hmmm...Bigger than we thought. We will have to find new spots, but with three big fruit trees think of all those blossoms full of pollen and nectar for the bees. And then all the fruit... farmer's market here we come!

Ok- now for the last inspection. According to "Beekeeping for Dummies" you should do weekly hive inspections for the first 8 weeks. We completed our 2 week (actually 12 day) inspection on Monday the 4th of May. A hive inspection starts with firing up the smoker about 30 minutes before the inspection to give it time to burn down to coals then add more fuel on top so it will smolder and make lots of nice smoke. We have had trouble with the smoker. If handled properly it should keep smoking for a long time. We can't keep it going for more than about 15 minutes or so. Guess we'll just keep practicing

A little more background. Beehives consist of a series of boxes which are open on the top and bottom stacked on top of each other. The bottom 2 boxes, called deep hive bodies, are deeper than the upper boxes and are where the queen lives and lays here eggs. 8-10 frames are stacked in each box. The bees build their comb on each of the frames and use the comb to store honey and pollen and to raise young bees. The queen lays an egg in each cell, the nurse bees feed the larvae, and as the larvae matures the nurse bees cap the cells with wax. Within the capped cells the larvae develop into adult bees, kind of like when a caterpillar develops into a butterfly. Eggs, larvae, and capped pupae are all referred to as brood. Pupae under the wax caps are called capped brood. Smaller boxes called supers go on top the deep hive bodies and are where the bees store extra honey- that will be our honey!

So- when we hived the bees we put each colony in a single deep hive body. As the bees build comb and fill up one box another is added to give them room to expand. We started this inspection with Virginia. We pulled each frame out, looked it over, and put it back in its place. We just needed to see how much room was left and to make sure that they were producing more bees to build up their numbers. We found out the bees had drawn comb on 7 of the 10 frames. Excellent! Time to add a second deep hive body. We also found lots of comb containing stored sugar syrup and pollen. We noticed about three different colors of pollen: orange, yellow, and cream as different flowers have different colors of pollen. The best part, though was seeing how many eggs, larvae, and capped brood there was. I think we are about to have a population explosion. Started with about 15,000 bees in the colony- a well established colony will have 120,000 or more bees. We even saw the queen crawling across one of the combs. We closed Virginia up, added a second deep hive body with 10 more frames, refilled the feeder with more sugar syrup, and moved on to Georgia.

By the time we got to Georgia the smoker was fading. Luckily our bees are so docile they didn't seem to mind the invasion of their hive. Georgia was not as advanced as Virginia. We saw stored sugar syrup and pollen, eggs, larvae, and capped brood, but only 5 frames contained comb and only 3 of the frames had a significant amount. No second hive body for Georgia. We did not see the queen anywhere, but the fact that there were eggs means that she has been around within the last few days. We are sure she was there somewhere.

We were concerned about the slow progress of Georgia. She has always been less active than Virginia. We thought that maybe we had a week queen and that maybe we would need to replace her. After more research and asking opinions of other beekeepers on, we discovered that Georgia is about average for the 2 week mark and that Virginia is really taking off. Maybe we should see about getting Virginia into a gifted and talented program.

Now we wait until next week and do it all over again. Can't wait for the fruit trees to come in to full bloom and watch the bees on the blossoms. We are just so proud of those little girls!

Pictures will follow but they will have to wait for another day.

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