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.


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