Sunday, June 14, 2009

Photos From June 12, 2009

The bees started spilling over the side of the hive as we were doing the inspection. When we were ready to put it back together it took just a few puffs of smoke to get them all back inside.

A queen cell hanging off the end of some burr comb on the corner of this frame. The camera (we used a cell phone camera because our other one was missing its batteries) decided to focus more on the hive in the background than on the subject of the photo.

This photo shows a bunch of bees clinging to each other hanging off the bottom of the frame.

Another queen cell pointing downward off the bottom of the frame.

Swarm Cells and Alfalfa Honey

We're back after almost two weeks off. The weather turned south and for about a week and a half it rained almost constantly and rarely got above 60 degrees which kept the bees inside the hives and us out. The weather finally broke and the days warmed back up into the 70's so we finally got back in to inspect the hives last Friday.

During the cold rainy weather the bees couldn't really get out and forage a whole lot. As they were kept inside the hive they really went through a lot of sugar syrup. Since it had been two weeks since the last inspection we weren't sure how much the hives would have progressed (we are never sure of anything) but were hoping that things were moving right a long. We brought out 2 medium supers just in case we needed to add them to the hives.

As soon as we opened Virginia's top cover and removed her feeder we could see that it would be time for a super. Nearly all the frames in the top deep hive body were full of comb. The bees had just started building comb in the second side of the 8th frame. As we moved through the hive we became concerned and more than a little confused. We were finding lots of capped brood, eggs, and larvae all through the upper hive body, which is good, but we also came across four queen cells hanging down off the bottom of a couple of frames. Remember from an earlier post that queen cells hanging off the bottoms of the frames are swarm cells and mean that the bees are running out of room and are getting ready to split the hive in half leaving us with only half of the bees to produce honey. We destroyed those swarm cells and moved on to the lower deep hive body. This is where we really got confused. We found some capped brood and lots of empty cells. The queen had obviously not been down there for a while, but did have lots of room to lay eggs if she just would. So why were the bees creating swarm cells? And how do we prevent them from doing it agin?

Well, we put Virginia back together the way she was and added a medium super. Between the top deep hive body and the super we inserted a queen excluder. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the ins and outs of beekeeping, a queen excluder is a screen-like device with holes large enough for the wokers to pass through but too small for the queen to pass. This excludes the queen from the super ensuring that only honey is stored in the super and that the queen doesn't lay eggs up there. Who would like to be squeezing honey onto their toast in the morning and have a bee pupae pop out onto their breakfast? Ok- that wouldn't really happen. The honey is all filtered after it is extracted and before it is bottled. It is exciting to have added the super- now the bees will fill out the frames with comb and start storing honey! We have been told not to expect honey for ourselves this first year- but we can hope.

We spoke with a more experienced back yard beekeeper today about Virginia's swarm cell situation. He said not to worry too much. Destroying the swarm cells and adding the super were the correct things to do. He also suggested that we reverse the positions of the deep hive bodies. The queen likes to move up but rarely moves down. By switching the deeps we can let her move up into the hive body with more room for egg laying. This combined with the addition of the super should be plenty to prevent any swarming. We will see if we can make that switch tomorrow.

Also- we have removed the hive feeder now that we have added a super. If the bees fill up the super with sugar syrup instead of nectar we will end up with thick sugar syrup insead of honey.

Georgia seems to be cruising along just a little behind Virginia. She was not ready for the addition of a super yet. It seems like about six of the frames in Georgia's upper deep hive body were filled with comb. I am guessing that we will add a super to Georgia in the next week or two.

While we endured all those days of cold and rain I got to worrying that there wasn't going to be enough nectar sources close enough for our bees to forage effectively. I read an article about how far bees will go to forage and decieded that 3 miles would be their effective foraging limit. That article was quite interesting- you can read it here . Anyway, I got on GoogleEarth and plotted a 3 mile radius from a center point at our house. If you are familiar with geography around Lovell, WY you will be able to visualize the following: Three miles from our house goes south into the hills beyond the cemetary, west just beyond Midway Motors, north into the hills beyond the river, and east almost to the junction heading to the National Recreation Area. This is a much larger area than I though it would be.

Back in March I was talking to a member of the family that owns Queen Bee Gardens. He says that most of their honey comes from alfalfa. Well, there is plenty of alfalfa within 3 miles of the hives so I think they will be fine. I found the following interesting as well. I had always thought that honey bees couldn't work alfalfa because when a bee tries to get in the flower it triggers a release mechanism in the flower and part of the flower pops open hitting a honey bee in the head. That is why smaller cutter bees are always used to polinate alfalfa fields. It turns out that honey bees figure out how to stick thier proboscis in the side of the blossom to get the nectar but are not then able to collect pollen from those plants. Honey bees are just so cool!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Ten Apples (And a Sting) Up On Top

I guess I will start with apples. A couple of weeks ago, while the fruit trees were in bloom, the small apple tree in the backyard was covered in bees. The hum of the bees in the tree could even be heard inside the house! Thanks to those bees the tree is now loaded with marble sized apples. I think we can look forward to a bumber apple crop this year. The pear tree, on the other hand, does not seem to be producing quite like the apple tree is. It never had the huge swarm of bees that the apple tree had but it did still have its fair share. Now we can only find a few developing pears in the whole tree. I guess there is nothing left to say about the pears except "Hmmm...."

I did something stupid this week. I was anxious to see how much progress the Virginia hive had made. It was a couple of days before I would be able to do the inspection and I wanted to see if, after the population explosion, Virginia's bees had started building comb on the outer most frames. So, after work when the evening was cooling down, I decided to just lift the edge of the top hive feeder and peek in. I had done this before without any problems, but that was when the population was a lot smaller. Anyway, I went to lift the edge but the bees had stuck the feeder to the hive with propolis (that's bee glue made from tree sap). The propolis broke free with a loud CRACK and the feeder popped up completely clear of the hive. The bees did not like that at all. I don't know how many bees came out of the hive but they all headed straight for me. I quickly replaced the feeder back on the hive as the bees were divebombing my head. As they chased me across the yard I felt the tiniest pin prick on my forehead. I thought to myself "That could not have been a sting, it didn't hurt." It gave me no problems that night so I thought I really had escaped unscathed. The next day it swelled up into a hard red knot and itched for the next four days. If that is all bee stings are made of- I say BRING THEM ON!

The last inspection occurred on May 29th. The hives are making progress filling in the empty frames with comb, but it is slow. In Virginia, we expected to see that she had finished drawing comb on the las three frames of the lower deep hive body and that the bees had moved up to the upper deep. Well the bees did move up but they had not touched the last 3 frames in the bottom compartment. The bees have always been clustered in the hive just to the right of center and had filled up the frames on the right side faster than the left. We were not sure what to do to get the bees to fill in the last three in the bottom or if we should just let them do their thing and they would fill them in eventually. We got some good advice from another beekeeper on and will replace the three empty frames in the bottom deep with three frames filled with comb but no brood from the upper deep. We will then take the empty frames from the lower and move them to the outside edge of the upper., by the way, is an excellent resource for beekeepers. It is visited everyday by hundreds of beekeepers from all over with all kinds of experience. They are always happy and willing to share their expertise and answer any question anybody has, even obvious questions from newbies like us. We recommend it to beekeepers who want to share, new beekeepers who want to learn, or anyone just thinking of starting a couple of hives of their own.

Georgia's bees had set up in the same position as Virginia- just to the right of center. They finally did fill out seven of their ten frames so we added a second deep hive body. Now we will see if they follow Virginia's example and move up without finishing the last 3 frames. In the last post we mentioned a curious cell in Georgia's hive. It looked too big to be a drone cell but not quite right to be a queen cell. Well, it wasn't there this week. Either it was our imagination or it was a drone cell that finally became a drone bee. I dont't think it was a queen cell because the hive didn't swarm and if it had been a supercedure cell I think there would have been more of them. Now we wait for the bees to fill in the deep hive bodies so we can start adding supers to the top. Have I explained what a super is? I'll do it now just in case I haven't. A super is smaller than a deep hive body and is placed on top of the deeps. The queen stays in the deep hives bodies laying eggs and raising brood. The worker bees fill the deeps up with honey and pollen for the hive to use. Any extra honey they produce they put up in the supers. That will be our honey!

Bees always amaze me and I could watch them for hours. Yesterday morning I got up early to weed and thin the lettuce in the garden. The hives are located just a few feet from the garden so I had a good view of them the whole time. Before the sun rose high enough in the air to shine directly on the hives there were just a few odd bees flying outside. As the sun peeked up over the hedge and direct sunlight hit the hives there was a sudden burst of activity and the bees poured out of the hives. It is like they were inside the entrance just waiting for the sunlight to hit. Beautiful!

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