Monday, March 29, 2010

The Long Days Of Spring

Here we are at the end of March. These spring months seem ot go by so slowly. It seems as though, since winter is over, it should be time to warm up, for flowers and trees to blossom, and nectar to start flowing. But the dandelions and pussywillows haven't even blossomed yet. So here we go, passing time feeding the bees and hoping they don't swarm.

The weather today cooperated for the most part and I had a day off, so we decided to venture into the hives and see what was going on.

We decided to take on Gerogia first. The first couple of frames were full of sugar syrup/honey, and then we pulled out this. At first glance we thought we were looking at a row of swarm cells along the bottom, but on closer inspection they turned out to be a bunch of drone cells. Whew! Gerogia is the hive that we are concerned about swarming. It is so strong and so full of bees, we hope we can keep them from trying to find another home.

Later on we came to some frames that looked more like this. You can see lots of capped brood. This frame was taken from Georgia's upper brood chamber. As we moved into the lower brood chamber we came across lots of eggs and larva that had not been capped. We had been planning on swapping the brood boxes to make sure the queen got moved to the lower chamber in order to prevent swarming, but it looks like she decided to move down on her own.

This was one of the first frames we pulled out of Virginia. You can see capped honey/sugar syrup next to empty comb. We just thought this was a curious pattern. The comb containing the honey has been drawn out further than the empty comb. Maybe the bees are planning on drawing out the rest of the comb and filling it up later? Who knows.

Here is a frame from Virginia's upper deep. You can see that there is plenty of capped brood. If you click on the photo to get a larger view, you can see different stages of larva as well. Of course there is capped honey up in the corners. There is pollen stored in the strip between the brood and the honey. This is a good frame to show the pattern of brood, honey, and pollen in the brood nest.

This photo is also from Virginia. Virginia had been a more aggressive colony and her numbers dwindled last summer so we had been worried about her queen. If you click on the photo you can see the eggs in the cells just to the right of the bees; there is a single egg in each cell. This means that the queen is laying and that she has been here within the last 3 days. If there had been more than one egg in each cell that would mean we have a laying worker. A laying worker develops when the hive has gone queenless and one of the new worker bees develops sexually and begins laying eggs. This is bad because, since the worker does not mate, all the resulting bees are drones. If not remedied, this spells the end of the colony. Even though Virginia's queen is around and laying we would still like to replace her. Since her bees are more aggressive and didn't produce as well as Georgia's, we hope a new queen with better leadership skills will improve their temperament and work ethic.

We took this opportunity to clean out underneath Virginia's hive. Bits and pieces of wax, pollen etc. fall through the screened bottom board and accumulate below. Underneath Virginia we found bits of wax, pollen, sugar that had fallen down from the mountain camp feeding earlier this winter, a few dead bees that had crawled underneath, and these strange little, red, shell-like pieces. They kind of remind us of miniature popcorn hulls. Click on the photo to see them close up. Any idea what they are? Anyway- what we didn't see were mites. And that is a good thing.

As we were cleaning up this little girl decided to stop by for a snack. I had gotten a little honey on my glove and Lucy here decided to pay us a visit before we went inside.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Spring Is Springing

Has spring arrived in Wyoming? It sure feels like it. Temps have been in the 40's and 50's for the last couple of weeks. Yesterday warmed up into the mid 50's and I decided that it was time to start some spring feeding for the bees.

I have struggled with how to manage the hives this spring and swarm control has been on my mind a lot. I know that usually bees have to be fed in the spring for 2 reasons: 1. to prevent them from starving to death before good nectar flows begin and 2. to get their numbers built up so when the nectar flows do start they can get going with honey production. Now, we have two different situations in our hives. Virginia had a pretty weak colony going in to the winter so I definately need her to build up her numbers this spring. To that end, I gave her a pollen patty and some sugar syrup with fumigillin and Honey-B-Healthy. The fumigillin will treat nosema and the Honey-B-Healthy is an essential-oil-conataining solution that is supposed to boost bees' immune systems. The pollen patty will stimulate brood production as pollen is required to feed the larvae. There has been no pollen in our area yet- the pussy willows will be the first to pop out in a week or so I think.
Georgia, on the other hand, had a nice strong colony going into the winter. Back at the beginning of February I had a chance to peek in the hives and found that Georgia's cluster took up about half of the upper deep. You can read about that and see her photo here if you would like. Because of her healthy population, I am more worried about Georgia swarming. I decided to manage her a little differently. I went ahead and provided her with sugar syrup mixed with fumigillin and Honey-B-Healthy just as I did Virginia, but I did not add a pollen patty. I don't want Georgia to build up too fast and swarm on me before I get a chance to perfome some swarm prevention maneuvers.

I knew Georgia would be doing well but I was not expecting to see what I saw when I opened her up. As can be seen in this photo the bees are covering the entire upper deep. I decided to do a full inspection to get an idea of how large her population is and what is going on in there. Cleaning off all the propolis and wax that had glued all the farmes in place was a chore and a half. As I started pulling frames out I found that the outer 4 frames (2 on each side) were still full of honey and the center 3 or 4 frames were nearly full of eggs! Now this surprised me. First of all, I found it odd that I should find eggs but no larvae or capped brood. I don't think these could be left from last fall- I am sure the bees would have cleaned them out if they hadn't survived the first cold snap. So I guess the queen started laying just a few days ago. Since we haven't had any pollen coming in I didn't know why she would be laying now. But when I made it down into the lower deep I found those frames almost completely empty except fora few frames with a bunch of pollen left from last year. Throughout the entire hive I saw bees- lots and lots of bees. With Georgia booming the way she is I think I can expect great things from her this year- if I can keep her from swarming that is. So if there are any other beeks with more experience than me out there, I would appreciate a comment or two about how to keep this hive going without losing half her population to a swarm.

Now to change the subject- Last month I felt like I got Christmas all over again. One Friday I got a package in the mail with all the seeds we ordered for the garden. We ordered from Johnny's Selcted Seeds. The next Monday I got a package from Betterbee which contained the items in this photo: 2 medium supers with pierco frames, an electric uncapping knife, a new hive tool (because I lost mine last year), a bee brush, a frame grip, Honey-B-Healthy, terramycin, fumigilin, and Mite Away. We are now waiting for the delivery of 2 bee suits- one that will fit Chris (my wife) and my oldest son and another that will fit my daughter and youngest son. We are all excited!

To finish on a feel good note- my daughter (who is 10) was walking home from school a couple of weeks ago with another kid when they got in an argument about bee stings. During the exchange she referred to herself as a beekeeper. It makes my heart smile.

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