Tuesday, May 25, 2010


I have to make a correction to something I said in my previous post. I heard a piping queen during my last inspection and reported that the piping was from a new queen as she prepares to mate. I was informed (very politely) by someone reading the blog that I was mistaken and that the piping is from the old queen calling to the new queen so she can kill her. So sorry about that. And thanks for letting me know about my error- there is still so much to learn.

So I guess I must have a new queen that hatched from a supercedure cells that I had not seen. So why were the bees superceding? The old queen seemed to bo doing great. I just have to remember that bees are smarter than we are- they usually know what they are doing.

Anyway, I did more research on queen piping and came across this really interesting paper called "Listen to the Bees" by Rex Boys. He chronicled the research of Eddie Woods who studied the various sounds that bees make. He was a sound broadcast engineer and hobbyist beekeeper. The paper discusses some technical material that I had to read over a time or two, but it is quite interesting. You can find it here if you are interested.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Piping Queen

I did a full inspection of both hives a few days ago. I think they are both looking good but I am not entirely sure what is going on inside Georgia. The results were as follows:

Georgia is still crammed full of bees. As I reported in an earlier post Georgia has been topped with 2 medium honey supers. I had originally put on only one super but a couple weeks ago or so I found that the hive was packed with bees from the bottom board to the outer cover. There was nectar being stored in the first super but none of it had been capped yet. I decided to add a second super just to give the bees a little more room. I provided a top entrance with the second super to make it easier for the bees to get in and out of the supers and hopefully make more honey. As of today, however, none of the bees seem to discovered the top entrance and I have not seen a single bee use it.

During this inspection I found uncapped nectar in both supers. Some of the frames in the first are filling up, but there is not much in the second. I think that we are kind of in between nectar flows right now; the fruit trees and dandelions are winding down and the alfalfa is not ready yet. Hopefully the alfalfa will get going before to long and the bees can really get busy. Alfalfa is the main nectar flow in the Big Horn Basin; it blooms continuously from maybe the end of May until maybe the beginning of October. Here is an interesting map with major nectar flow information.

Back to the inspection. I went through every frame of the brood nest to make sure there weren't any swarm cells and I didn't find any. That is a good thing. There were lots of eggs, larva, and capped brood. The photo below is a frame from the upper deep hive body.

I thought that the amount of capped brood here was pretty impressive. This queen is certainly prolific. The fact that this queen has been so great is the reason I am now a little confused as to what exactly is going on in there. You see, during the inspection a week or so ago I found capped brood and eggs, but no larva. I thought that was a little odd. This spring I have seen several queen cups; some up high in the frames (supercedure position) and some along the bottom of the frames (swarm position) but all had been empty. Until that last inspection, that is. At that time, as I lifted one of the frames out, I found a capped queen cell on the bottom of a frame (swarm position) but only one of them. When they are preparing to swarm they usually build several swarm cells. This queen cell must have been connected to the frame next to it as well because as I pulled it out it ripped the cell open and exposed the entire pupa inside. I cleaned it up with the hive tool replaced the frame.

Now fast forward to a few days ago- As I was down in the bottom deep I heard this warbling sound coming from inside the hive. It was loud enough to be heard over all the buzzing of the bees. I wasn't sure but I thought it might be the sound of a piping queen. I did an internet search and came across some recordings. Sure enough, that is exactly what I heard. Now, as I understand it, piping comes from a virgin queen as she prepares to mate. So, what do I have? A hive with the existing queen and a virgin queen that is preparing to swarm? Or a queen from a supercedure cell mounting a coup? And where did this piping queen come from? Scotland? OK- that was a bad joke, but I really have always wanted to go to Scotland and learn to play the bagpipes. Back to the subject at hand- I can't imagine that the bees would want to supercede this queen and I haven't seen any capped queen cells except for the one that broke open. What is going on here!?

As I opened Virginia I looked through her super and found lots of uncapped nectar so I did not add a second super at this time. I imagine I will have to add one once the alfalfa gets going.

Going through the brood nest I came across this little girl chewing here way out of her cell. See her photo below.

I am thoroughly impressed by Virginia's queen this spring. This hive struggled last summer and there wasn't a huge population going in to the winter. I was thinking of re-queening her this spring but never got around to it. I wonder if the bees re-queened themselves last fall because she has built up explosively this spring. While in the brood nest it seemed that bees were coming out of nowhere. I had to smoke to clear the bees out enough pull out a frame and after looking at if for about 15 seconds I would have to smoke again to move the bees out of the way to put the frame back in. I seriously could not see the frames in the box for all the bees covering them. I did find that there was lots of pollen and honey in the brood chamber and it looked like the queen might be running out of room so I expanded the broodnest by pulling a frame with honey and pollen from the edge and placing an empty frame in the middle. I hope we are almost through the spring swarm season so the bees can just get down to business and make us some honey!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Playing Catch-Up

A lot has happened since I last posted anything on this blog so I will catch up on what has been happening over the last couple of weeks.

About 2 weeks ago I inspected the hives. Everything seemed like it was cruising right along until I noticed something on one of Georgia's frames. This drone stood out with wings that looked a little different from the others. I separated it out where I could get a good look at it. Its wings are not horribly deformed but they are definitely smaller than the wings on the other drones and have a slightly more rumpled look. I was afraid that I had deformed wing virus in the hive. DFV is usually carried by varroa mites and I have not seen any other sign of the mites at all. I have checked under the screened bottom board and uncapped drone brood and have not come across a single one. This was the only bee I could find with this type of wing. I inspected Georgia this evening and did not come across any others so I am hoping that this bee was just a fluke and that all is well.

When I performed that inspection a couple of weeks ago the dandelions were starting to bloom and the fruit trees were about to start. I put on a queen excluder and a medium super on each hive and hoped that there would be enough of a nectar flow to get the bees started on honey production.

My plan with the queen excluder this year is this: I will start out with a queen excluder on since I tried it without one last year and ended up with brood up in the honey super. Once the bees have filled the first super with honey I will remove the excluder and use the first honey filled super as the excluder. As I understand bee behavior, the girls are sometimes reluctant to go through a queen excluder, but the queen does not like to cross over capped honey. So by removing the excluder after the first super is capped, I hope to boost honey production and at the same time keep the queen down in the bottom boxes.

The weather the last couple of weeks has been chilly and windy with a little rain here and there. It was amazing that even on chilly damp days there was still a steady stream of bees leaving the hives. One day, after it had rained the night before, I was able to take a picture of this bee drinking from some rain water which had collected in an old plastic wading pool tossed in the corner of the yard. We had put out a 5 gallon bucket with water for the bees but good luck telling those girls what they are supposed to do.

The fruit tree bloom did finally get started. We have a small apple tree and pear tree in our back yard, there is a large apple tree across the street, and there are lots of crabapple trees all over town. I have seen various bushes and hedges around town that have blossomed in pink, white, and yellow. I have no idea what they are but they have attracted the bees. Here is a shot of a bee on an apple blossom in our back yard.

The pear tree actually blossomed about a week before the apple tree did, but the bees pretty much ignored it until just a couple of days ago. They did finally find it and then really went after it.

That brings us to today. This evening I decided to see how Georgia was doing. I had to wait til I got home from work so there wasn't time to inspect both hives. When I took the outer cover off of Georgia I was amazed to see so many bees clogging up the medium super and completely filling the space between the inner and outer covers. I gave them a few shots of smoke (I'll tell you about the smoker in a minute) and cleared them out of the way and checked out the super. As you can see in this photo they had been busy collecting and storing nectar. This picture is pretty indicative of how much nectar was in all nine of the frames (I'll tell you about the switch to nine frames in a minute too.) Click on the photo to get a closer view of the nectar.

Ordinarily I would wait until most of the honey in this super was capped before adding another super, but since the hive was so full and crowded I thought it would be prudent to give the bees a little more space. So on went the second super and it is just the middle of May. I am surprised at how much nectar this hive has already collected- I think this may be a good year for honey.

I peeked in Virginia's super as well. She has stored nectar in all nine of her frames also, but has not collected as much as Georgia.

As I was closing everything up I saw this bee on the side of the hive. It looked so pretty with the evening sunlight shining through her translucent, honey colored abdomen.

Now, just a couple of foot notes:
1. Smoker: I have a new smoker fuel. I ran out of the cedar chips I had been using and remembered that we had some old pet litter in the basement called "Yesterday's News". It is made of old newspaper compacted down into little pellets. It worked well and burned for a long time. It doesn't smell nearly as nice as the cedar chips do, though.
2. 9 frame supers: Last year we used 10 frames in each of our 10 frame honey supers. However, when we went to extract the honey we found that it was difficult to uncap them as the caps did not extend beyond the edges of the frames. This year we bought some frame spacers and are going with 9 frames in a 10 frame super. This will hopefully allow the bees to draw the comb a little deeper so as to extend the caps beyond the edges of the frames and make it easier to uncap. I have read that you can only do this if you are using frames that already have fully drawn comb or the bees will draw it out unevenly or try to fill in the gaps with burr comb. We had about 25 fully drawn frames from last year (the others were all partially drawn but still had capped honey) so we are going with nine frames in the first two supers which we already added and will use 10 in the rest. Next year we should be able to go with more 9 frame supers.
Whew. There. We did it. It was a big job but we are finally all caught up. I will fill you in later as things continue to change.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Bees On Dandelions

The bees are out in force on all of the dandelions in our yard. We have quite a patch behind the house- literally hundreds of dandelions. Let's hope I do a better job of keeping bees than I do of keeping a nice lawn.

Before I get to the photos of the bees and dandelions I will catch up with what has been going on around here. Back on April 22nd a bunch of bushes with pink blossoms and a few trees also with pink blossoms started to bloom. (I started an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of all my bloom dates. I am hoping that over the years this will help me be more prepared for what is coming.) Since Georgia was pretty full of pollen brood and honey I added the queen excluder and a medium super on April 24th. Shortly after this the weather turned south. We had several days of wind and cold (down to 24 degrees one night) and even a couple of days of snow. I was disappointed that the bees were unable to get out and take advantage of those blossoms. A few other fruit trees have popped out in blossoms, the apple trees are close, and the crabapple trees shouldn't be too far behind them. So we are close to some good nectar flows, but right now we have dandelions!

Here are some photos that I took this afternoon. The bees were everywhere! I had to pay attention to where I was kneeling to make sure I didn't squish any bees. These pictures aren't great, but I love taking pictures of my girls!

See the proboscis extending down to find the nectar.

I don't know what the problem here was. There were plenty of blossoms for everyone.

She has her head down sucking up the sweet nectar.

Sucking up the nectar again. Looks like she really had to go deep.

That is a pretty pollen sack, Don't you think?

Another one diving in

If you look closely through the petals just below the bees head you can see her proboscis extending down to get the nectar.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...