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.


Robertson Family said...

Can anyone tell us why blogger will not save the spaces between paragraphs? So frustrating! So please excuse how all the paragraphs run together.

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