Friday, July 30, 2010

Becoming Queen Right

I think we are on our way to becoming queen right.

Both hives have had queen problems this summer and both have superceded. Georgia was the first to supercede and develop her own new queen. It took a couple of weeks to get her legs under her and start laying well, but after today's inspection I have concluded that she is doing a great job. Down in her brood nest I found lots of capped brood, larva, and eggs all in a nice tight pattern. Will the new bees from this queen get up and foraging before the nectar flow slows down? I hope so- I would like to see them put away a little more honey for me before the end of the summer.

As far as Georgia's honey supers go, she has not made progress in the newest super full of empty frames I put on a while back. She is putting honey back into the super we extracted a few weeks ago. It is almost completely filled back up with nectar/honey. None of it is capped yet though.

The bottom super (just above the deep hive bodies) was the first to be filled with honey. Once the bees had filled it, I pulled the queen excluder off and let that super of honey act as an excluder to keep the queen from going any higher. Today I discovered that the bees have been removing honey from the bottom half of the center frames in that super. It looks like they are trying to give the queen more space to lay. This happened earlier in the summer, too. At that time I reversed brood boxes to move the queen back down to the bottom box, and the bees filled the super back in with honey. I opted not to do that today. With the problems the queens have been having this summer I decided to leave well enough alone. Will I get brood in the honey super? Maybe. I will deal with that if and when it happens.

Virginia has had more of a rough time with her queens this summer. I think one supercedure attempt failed, and she had to give it a second try. By the time the second attempt was completed the hive was completely broodless. I ordered a new queen from Old Sol Enterprises thinking that the second attempt had failed, but last week I discovered a few eggs and larva. The new queen was supposed to have shipped on Monday and arrived sometime this week. Either the guy at Old Sol meant the queen would be shipped next Monday or I miss understood because no queen has arrived. No matter, in today's inspection I found eggs, larva, and capped brood. The pattern is not great but it took Georgia's queen a little while to settle down and get going properly. It looks like Virginia is on her way to becoming queen right as well. If the new queen does arrive next week I will try to find Virginia's queen and replace her with Old Sol's. I think that I would rather have a queen from proven stock rather than a queen from an earlier queen that had to be superceded in her second year.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Frustrations Of A Second Year Beekeeper

I guess nobody ever said that the second year of beekeeping would be easy. I just assumed that, with a year of experience, it would all be pretty straightforward. Ha! I was wrong!

Last year was really not too complicated. We hived the packages toward the end of April and fed them sugar syrup until they had enough nectar coming in to quit taking it. The queens laid eggs and raised brood like crazy. As the bees filled up one super with comb and honey we would add another. At the end of the summer we extracted honey and fed them more sugar syrup to make sure they could make it through the winter. It all worked out pretty much the way Beekeeping For Dummies said it would.

This year has been a different story. First, both hives built up rapidly this spring, and I had to try to prevent swarming- we had swarm cells up into June. Then both hives went queenless for a while.

Back in June Georgia did successfully raise a new queen who started laying a couple of weeks ago. Virginia, on the other hand, had a more difficult time raising her own queen and went queenless and broodless longer than Georgia. Back on July 5th I reported that Virginia had 6 supercedure cells, and it looked like she was finally on her way to requeening herself.

A couple of weeks ago I inspected Virginia to see if the new queen had started laying but didn't find a single egg or larva. I figured that the supercedure attempt had failed and, without any eggs or larvae, the bees would not be able to make their own. A few days later I moved a frame of brood from Georgia to Virginia to stop any laying workers from developing and I ordered a new queen from Old Sol Enterprises in Oregon. The queen was supposed to have shipped today and arrive in a day to two. I have since checked on Virginia again and, to my surprise, found eggs and larvae! I didn't see a lot, just a few. I guess my bee math must have been off. What was curious, though, is that it looked like there were several cells with royal jelly in with the larvae. Does this mean that the bees already know that this new queen is not up to snuff and they are already trying to replace her? When the new queen arrives from Old Sol I will try to find the current queen and replace her.

In the mean time, with all of these queen issues, the populations of both hives have dropped somewhat and extra honey production has almost stopped. At this point, we will harvest honey this fall- we have 3 medium supers on each hive that are mostly full of honey. Think of what it could have been if everything had gone according to plan! Now I just hope to have both hives queen right and with a decent population before fall.

We actually have extracted some honey already- also on July 5th I reported that our bees were beginning to run out of room. We had a couple more supers and frames on order, but they were slow to arrive. So we pulled one super from Virginia and extracted a couple gallons of honey and put it back on the hive. The honey is delicious- it has a smoth and almost buttery flavor. When the new supers did arrive we put those on as well. With the queen issues and declining populations, the bees have not done much in the new supers; they have only drawn a minimal amount of comb. I figure if they can at least do that much then it will just accelerate the comb building process next summer.

I think we have a few more weeks of decent nectar flow- we'll cross our fingers and hope everything goes well.

Monday, July 5, 2010

New Queens and Nectar Flows

Things are moving right along this summer. Last time I updated the blog the bees had been collecting nectar in the honey supers- they had gone through the dandelion and fruit tree blooms and were finally collecting nectar from some unknown source. We had been anxiously awaiting the start of the alfalfa bloom (our main nectar flow) which had been delayed this year due to a cool wet spring.

Both hives have been having queen issues this year. As of the last update Georgia had a supercedure cell in the works and Virginia's queen appeared to have started laying again.

I think I will tackle things a subject at a time rather than chronologically.

This first picture is what the hives look like as of today. I know- it looks a little odd, but let me explain...
When we first ordered the bee hives about a year and a half ago we decided to go with BeeMax polystyrene hives. They looked easy to put together and we thought they would help the bees overwinter. Since that time we have decided that we want to switch over to regular wooden hives so have ordered wooden honey supers to go on top. We will be ordering wooden hive bodies and switch them out next spring. It makes them look a little strange on the outside, but the bees don't care what they look like. They build comb and store honey just the same either way.

I drilled a hole in the top super on each hive in an effort to encourage more honey production. I figure that if the bees can access the super directly without traversing the brood chamber and lower honey supers then they ought to be able to make more nectar collecting trips. I attached a small landing strip in front of each to make it easier for nectar laden bees to land. If you have ever seen bees full of nectar returning to the hive you know that they are so heavy they have a hard time hitting their target.

The photo above shows a lone worker on one of the landing strips fanning the entrance.
Nectar Flows
Our cool wet spring delayed the alfalfa flow this year by about 2 weeks. We had seen a few lone alfalfa plants beginning to blossom but the big alfalfa fields still looked pretty blossomless. Finally the fields started filling up with purple and blue flowers right about June 20th. We are glad to see it get started. The alfalfa fields being raised for seed will blossom continuously until sometime in September (I think). There are 4 or 5 of these fields within a mile and a half of our house. That should keep the girls busy.
Also on June 20th the Russian olives began their bloom. You'd think that, having grown up with Russian olives all around, I would have realized that they get covered with little yellow blossoms every year. I guess I never looked closely enough to see them. We found a tree near our house and snapped this picture of a bee foraging on a Russian olive blossom.
We did not see a lot of bees working this tree. I don't know if Russian olives are not an important source of nectar or if the bees just prefer the alfalfa that was starting at the same time. In any case, the Russian olives continued to blossom for a week or two and then the blossoms died off.

Honey Supers
The bees have been storing nectar in the supers for a while now, but when the alfalfa flow started they really picked up the pace. Georgia has had 3 medium supers for quite a while, but the bees hadn't been doing anything up in her top box until this past week. They are actively building comb and storing nectar there now. Last week I put a third super on Virginia as well and today I saw that they were starting to draw comb up there. They are not quite as far along as Georgia is, though.
Here is a photo of a frame of honey from Georgia's second super. They have a little more than half of this central frame capped. They have not started capping the outside frames yet, but it is just a matter of time.
This next photo is a top view of one of the frames from Georgia's first super. I spaced the frames out a little and only placed 9 frames here. You can see that the comb has been drawn out a little further and the caps extend out just beyond the width of the frame. This should make it easier to uncap with a hot knife when extraction time comes around.

Each hive now has 3 supers and the bees are working hard to fill them up with honey. We bought 1 extra super with frames to go on each hive this spring thinking that that should be enough. They have worked harder than we anticipated and we put our last super and frames on Virginia last week. We have ordered more supers and frames- let's hope they get here quickly.
Both hives have been having queen issues. We inspected both hives on June 26th and found the following. Georgia had a couple frames of capped brood, no eggs, very few larva, and 1 capped supercedure queen cell. Virginia had a little capped brood, very few eggs, very few larva, and no queen cells.
We thought about re-queening both hives with commercially bred queens, but after calling several queen breeders we found that no one would be able to get us a queen for 2-3 weeks. We then decided to let Georgia supercede with their own queen and just wait and see what we might find in Virginia later.
During today's inspection I found some eggs but not a lot. In a few of the cells I actually saw a couple of eggs. My first thought was that I have a laying worker in the hive, but there is still some capped brood in the hive. I actually watched a couple of workers chew their way out of their cells. Since laying workers develop from the lack of brood pheromones (according to Michael Bush's website) I concluded that the eggs must be from the new queen who is just not up on her feet yet. I will continue to monitor this situation and inspect again next week to see how they are doing.
In Virginia's brood nest today I found no eggs, nor larva, some capped brood, and some capped queen cells that can be seen in this photo.
Six capped queen cells- I am assuming that they are all supercedure cells to replace the queen who seems to have gone missing. I find it curious that both queens had problems at the same time like this. We will leave Virginia alone for a couple of weeks and then check how the new queen is getting along.
One thing that does have me a little concerned is that the bees seem to be filling in the brood nest with honey just about as quickly as the new bees emerge from their cells. That doesn't leave the new queens much space to lay eggs. In order to give them a little more space I removed a couple outside frames full of honey and put a couple of empty frames in the center positions. I brought one of the frames in to the kitchen table and we had a tasty treat with our supper. This honey was a little darker and stronger than the honey we extracted last fall. But that was mainly alfalfa honey from the supers. This was honey from down in the hive bodies and made earlier in the season. I wonder if maybe this is dandelion/fruit tree/wild flower honey. It is amazing how different nectar sources can have such an effect on the flavor and appearance of the final product.

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