Monday, December 5, 2011

The Jet Stream Is Dipping Low

Brr... It is cold.  We woke up to zero degrees Fahrenheit (that's negative 17.7 degrees Celsius) this morning!  Here is what the jet stream looks like today:
No wonder is it so cold here in Wyoming, but it looks like North Dakota probably has it worse than us.  I bet the bees are in a tight cluster today!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Honey Beats Dextromethorphan!

I came across this article yesterday at the American Pharmacists Association's website.  One more reason to support your local beekeeper.

I am not sure when this article was published by APhA, but the study they cite in Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine was published in 2007.

Honey more effective than honey-flavored dextromethorphan for children's coughs

Key point: A study published in Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine found that children who received a single dose of buckwheat honey 30 minutes before bedtime slept better and coughed less than those who received honey-flavored dextromethorphan or no treatment at all.

Finer points: The primary outcome measure of this partially double-blinded, randomized study was to compare parental satisfaction with a single nocturnal dose of buckwheat honey, honey-flavored dextromethorphan, or no treatment at all in children experiencing nocturnal coughing from an upper respiratory infection (URI). A total of 105 children aged 2 to 18 years with URI, nocturnal coughing, and duration of illness 7 days or less were enrolled in this study, which took place in a single, outpatient, general pediatric practice.

On the first night of the study, each child received no treatment. The next morning, parents answered five questions concerning cough frequency and severity, bothersome nature of cough, quality of child's sleep, and quality of parent's sleep. Survey responses were stratified using a seven-point Likert scale. On the second night, each child was randomized to receive a single syringe containing 2.5 mL, 5 mL, or 10 mL of buckwheat honey or honey-flavored dextromethorphan, or nothing. The syringes for all of the treatment groups were opaque and were placed in brown paper bags to ensure investigator blinding. The honey and dextromethorphan groups were blinded to patients and parents because the two products had similar consistency, texture, flavor, smell, and sweetness. Parents answered the same five questions the following morning.

Overall, parents rated honey as significantly better than dextromethorphan or no treatment for all five criteria (P < 0.001). Mild adverse events (e.g., hyperactivity, nervousness, insomnia) were significantly more common in children treated with honey than those treated with dextromethorphan or nothing (P = 0.04).

What you need to know: The recent FDA announcement that the Consumer Healthcare Products Association is voluntarily modifying the product labels of all OTC cough and cold medicines to state that the products should not be used in children under 4 years of age has left pharmacists with virtually no cough products to recommend for children in this age group. While additional research is needed to confirm the findings of this study, pharmacists should consider recommending honey as a symptomatic treatment for cough. Honey is safer than dextromethorphan in terms of abuse potential and possible serious adverse events (e.g., dystonia, anaphylaxis, psychosis, death). In addition, no published findings demonstrating the efficacy of dextromethorphan in children are available.

What your patients need to know: Tell parents that honey has been used as an alternative medicine since ancient times. Exactly why or how honey improves coughing is not known; it may be its viscosity or its antioxidant properties. Encourage parents to purchase only unfiltered, unheated, unprocessed honey and to never give honey to children under 1 year of age, because honey can contain botulism spores in its natural form.


Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Seasons Are Changing

It looks like winter is on its way!  Yesterday we got our first snow of the year.  It has snowed up on the mountains a few times already, but this was the first snow down here in town.  It didn't snow a lot, just enough to cover the grass and ice up the windshield.

Here is a picture of the hive in the little bit of snow we did get.
Not much snow there, but it is chilly enough to keep the bees inside today.

This next picture was taken inside the feeder that I still have in place.
I think the bees must be clustered up in the top of the hive just under the left side of the feeder.  It looks like the cluster is overflowing up into the feeder.  If you look closely, though, you can see some of the bees lined up on the bottom with their heads pointing down- they are feeding on the sugar syrup.  I hope it stays warm enough long enough for the bees to finish off this last batch of syrup.  We are supposed to warm back up to about 50 degrees F (That's about 10 degrees Celsius) later this week.

The following are a few pictures of the Bighorn mountains which I took this morning.  The Bighorns run north and south.  We live just on the west side of the mountains so these pictures are looking east at the western slope.  You should be able to click on the photos and see larger view.

I love the Bighorn mountains!  I think they are one of the most beautiful places on earth and feel truly blessed to live where I do.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Fall Feeding... I Hope It's Not Too Late

The seasons are definitely changing- the nights are chilly, leaves are covering the lawn, and I frequently have to scrape frost off the windshield in the morning.  It has snowed a few times up in the Bighorn and Pryor mountains, but we have stayed snow free so far down here in the valley.  In fact, my son and I were up in the Pryors a couple of days ago cutting our last load of wood for the winter as the snow was falling.  It has been a beautiful fall, though.  Without a real hard frost yet the leaves have all had a chance to turn and fall on their own.  It seems like so often we get a cold spell in October that freezes the leaves before they have a chance to turn on their own.

The bees have been getting less and less active as the temps have gotten cooler.  I'm sure they are clustering at night but do get out and about as the days warm up- we have been getting up into the 50's and 60's still here in town. 

We are down to one hive going in to the winter.  Virginia ended up with laying workers toward the end of the summer and finally died out.  Georgia recovered nicely from her swarm last spring and has been healthy and strong coming in to fall.

Last year we extracted honey at the first of September and then tried to feed sugar syrup to prepare the hives for winter, but the bees ignored the sugar syrup completely- I couldn't get them to take any of it.  There must have been plenty of nectar coming in during September and October because they had plenty of stores to get them through the winter.  So this fall I figured they would have enough and didn't try feeding them.  A while a go I hefted Georgia's hive and found that it was incredibly light.  I don't know what the difference is between this year and last, but it appears that there must not have been much of a fall nectar flow this year.

Last week I prepared 2 gallons of sugar syrup mixed 1 1/2 parts sugar to 1 part water.  I also added a little bit of Honey B Healthy.  Honey B Healthy contains some essential oils that are supposed to help honeybees remain healthy and strong.  I don't know if it really helps or not, but I have a bottle of it and figure it probably doesn't hurt.  According to all the books I have seen, sugar syrup for fall feeding should be mixed in a 2:1 ratio, but I have not had much luck keeping that in solution- it keeps crystallizing on me.  I bet the bees don't really care what the concentration is.  Anyway, it took the bees just a couple of days to consume the first two gallons.  I prepared a second batch a couple of days ago.  Here is a photo of the bees in the feeder.
Sorry the bees do not show up very clearly.  (You can see our leftover tomato plants in the background- time to get those cleaned up.)  When I first got the feeder the bees' feet couldn't cling to the smooth surface of the plastic guard and bees drowned in the syrup by the dozens.  I took a wire brush and scuffed up the inside of the guard creating tiny little grooves that the bees' feet could catch.  Now very few bees drown, but it doesn't make for great pictures of bees feeding on the syrup.

I don't know how long it will be before it gets too cold and the bees stop taking the syrup, but I will feed them as long as they do.  I hope they can get enough stored up to make it through the winter.  I am already planning on supplemental feeding in the late winter/early spring.

This winter we will be ordering a replacement colony to take Virginia's place.  I hope to get a Russian queen and compare them with the Italian mutts living in Georgia.  I don't know what we will name the new colony of Russian honeybees.  Maybe a nice Russian name like Sasha or Svetlana.  Any suggestions?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Honey Harvest 2011

This post is a little overdue- two weeks ago we harvested our honey.  I actually pulled the supers off Georgia and extracted the honey a couple of days later.  Virginia ended up with laying workers this summer and has now died out completely.

As I was removing the supers I removed each frame one at a time and removed the bees.  The top couple of supers, which were the last ones to be put on, were full of capped honey- nearly every frame was 100% capped.  The lower three supers had several frames that were full of uncapped nectar.  I found it curious that the newest supers had more capped honey than the older ones.  I had removed the queen excluder earlier in the summer because the bees kept sealing it off and blocking their own ability to move up into the supers.  Consequently there was a little bit of brood up in the bottom super.  I wonder if the fact that the brood chamber was sitting a little higher could explain why there was less capped honey down low.  Anyway, by the time I switched out all the uncapped frames with capped frames I had 4 full supers.

This first photo shows uncapping a frame of honey with a heated uncapping knife.

As the hot knife removed the caps it frequently leaves a thin layer of wax over the tops of the cells.  This next photo shows the scratcher that I used to very lightly remove that thin layer of wax.
You can also see the uncapping tank I devised to catch the honey that drained off of the caps.

In this next photo you can see the extractor we used and a filter over the five gallon bucket.
Filtering is the slowest step of the whole extracting process.  Since it does go so slowly, we extracted most of the honey into buckets and filtered it after the fact. This last photo is of the unfiltered honey in a five gallon bucket.
 In the end we extracted 133 pounds or about 11 gallons.

We let the caps drain for a couple of days and filtered that honey a little later.  When it was all done we added about five pounds of honey to the total.

Now we have a bunch of beeswax that will need to be melted down and cleaned up.  I don't know what we will do with the wax this year.  Maybe we will try some candle making.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Uncapping Tank Design

Here is the uncapping tank I designed and built this year. I designed one last year that had a few flaws- mainly that I had a difficult time removing the caps from the tank without dropping them down into the honey. Hopefully this years design will correct that problem.

I am no engineer nor did I try for great precision when I built this thing. I just kind of eyeballed the cuts- It's not the prettiest, but I think it will work.

First I have a photo of what the final product looks like.

I started with 2 identical plastic bins that nest one inside the other.

I took one of the bins and drilled holes down in the corners on the sides, cut a notch in the top and cut the bottom completely out.

I then shaped a piece of hardware cloth to the length and width of the floor of the bin. I formed loops and wired it all in place so two wooden dowels could slip in the ends.

The hardware cloth fits inside the plastic bin and dowels slip through the holes in the corners of the bin, through the hardware cloth loops, and out the holes on the other side. The dowels need to be long enough to extend a couple of inches beyond the sides of the bin.

I cut notches down in the sides of the top corners of the second bin as seen in the photo above.
The dowels extending out from the first bin fit down into the notches of the second bin.
Finally, a small piece of wood fits across the notches cut into the top of the first (top) bin. I used a 1X2.

The strip across the top is used as a rest for the frame you are uncapping. As the caps fall from the frame they land on top of the hardware cloth in the bottom of the top bin. The honey then drains through the harware cloth and into the bottom bin. When all the honey has drained, the top bin can be lifted off and the honey can be poured out of the bottom bin and through a filter.

I intended to install a honey gate in the bottom bin to make it easier to transfer the honey to other containers but I never got around to ordering one. If this design works out I will install one for next year.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Laying Workers

It's for sure. We have laying workers. I have known this for the last week or so but have been to busy (read lazy) to post it all to the blog.

If you want to read about when I found the cells with multiple eggs you can find it here.

I have read about several different methods for getting rid of laying workers, all of which take time. The question now is- Do I have time to get rid of the laying workers and requeen the hive in time to get the population and stores built up and ready for winter? I don't really know, but it seems pretty late in the season to me. I have decided to cut my losses with this hive and start this hive over next spring.

I have moved all the honey supers form Virginia over to Georgia. Georgia swarmed early in the summer and took quite a while to start filling up her supers. She has a booming population now and with Virginia's supers she is stacked up with 5 supers total.

Before Virginia lost her queen she was well on her way to filling at least 4 supers with honey. Last year (our second with the bees) we also had queen problems in both hives and extracted a total of 6 supers. Just think how much honey we could extract if we could just get a good year without any swarms or supercedures or laying workers!

Since Virginia will die out this fall and winter anyway, I am removing the deep frames from the hive to harvest what honey I can. In the empty space left in the deep hive bodies I am hoping that the remaining workers will try to rebuild the comb with fresh wax. That will just give me more wax to harvest before winter. We will see how that goes.

So now we are just waiting for Virginia to finish capping her honey. We plan on extracting the honey in early September. Last year I designed and built an uncapping tank. It worked but had some design flaws. This year I have modified the designed and built another that I think will work a little better. That will be the subject of the next blog post.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

I Don't Know!!

I wish I could figure these bees out. Just when I think I know what is going on I am perplexed by a whole new set of circumstances. Let me start from the beginning.

As we all know, Virginia had been queenless for a while and I had ordered a new Russian hybrid queen from the Walter T Kelley company in Tennessee. While the hive was to be queenless I removed the queen excluder just to make sure there was nothing to hinder the workers from putting honey away in the supers. Walter T Kelley couldn't ship the queen right away due to the heat wave occurring in the Midwest at the time. They shipped her off to me last week and she arrived on Friday.

I went out to introduce the new queen on Saturday morning at about 10:00. The day was just beginning to warm up and the temp was in the low to mid 80's. Here is a photo of the Russian hybrid queen and 5 attendants.
I rigged up some wire and part of a coat hanger with which to hang the cage in the hive. Sorry you can't see the bees very well. The queen should stay in her cage for a while so the rest of the hive can get used to her scent. If she is released too soon she will be killed.

Anyway, I set the queen cage off to the side in the grass while I got into the hive. Virginia was stacked up with 4 supers. The top super was still empty, the next was about 50% filled with nectar, and in the next one I saw the following three photos. (I hope you can click on the photos and get a closer view. Sometimes Blogger works that way with my photos and sometimes it doesn't.)

Multiple eggs in the cells! Two things are wrong with this. First of all there was no queen. I know this because there had been no eggs or brood for quite some time and I did not see any queen cells in the hive before she went queenleess. Second of all there are multiple eggs in the cells. I saw some cells with up to 5 eggs in them. To me this looks like the work of laying workers: my worst nightmare come true. (If you are unfamiliar with laying workers click here for a quick explanation) Laying workers are very difficult to get rid of, and this late in the summer I don't know if there would be time to rescue the hive even if I were able to get rid of the blasted things. In any case, once you have laying worker(s) it does no good to introduce a new queen because all the bees think they have a laying queen and will kill the new queen as soon as she is released.

I finished looking through the hive and found no eggs in the deep hive bodies which were nearly full of honey. I then put the hive back together and picked up the new queen wondering what I would do with her now. As it turned out I didn't need to wonder at all. As the sun heated up overhead it baked the queen and her attendants- they were all dead in the cage! What a day! I was really bummed out about the prognosis of the hive. I did not realize that I had become emotionally attached, not to the individual bees but to the hive as one single organism.

I convinced myself that there might be a little bit of hope left. If I had missed a queen cell before Virginia went queenless and she had just started to lay, she might be laying multiple eggs in a cell before she gets her laying legs under her. That did actually happen when Georgia superceded last year. Is it possible? Yes- but I think chances are pretty slim.

Today I got back into the hives. I figured that if there could be a new queen in Virginia then I needed to make sure she was down in the deep hive bodies so the honey supers don't get turned into the brood nest. I went through each super frame by frame and brushed every bee down into the top deep hive body and reassembled the supers. I looked for eggs and brood also and found that about 50% of the cells with eggs had multiple eggs and about 50% had single eggs. Only a few of the larva that had hatched were being capped- most were drone cells (indicative of laying workers) but a couple looked like workers. So maybe a queen?

Now see if you can follow my logic for what I did next. A) Virginia has a relatively small population of bees since bees have been dying but have not been replaced since there has not been a queen. B) Virginia had tons of space with 4 supers and relatively few bees. C) Georgia's population has been growing as she has been queen-right since her swarm early in the summer but has much less space with only 3 supers. D) If Virginia does not have a queen but does have laying workers then drone brood will continue to muck up the frames of honey that are being stored in her supers since laying workers can move up and down through the queen excluder.

So here is what I did. I removed a couple deep frames of honey in the upper deep hive body and replaced them with frames of empty comb. Hopefully this will give the queen (if there is one) space to lay eggs. I then found all of Virginia's frames with any eggs or brood and condensed them down into a single super and put that back on above the queen excluder and put an empty super on top of that. I took all of Virginia's frames of honey and combined them together into a couple of supers and put them on top of Georgia. Now Virginia may or may not be queen-right and has 2 supers. Georgia is queen right and is very tall with 5 supers- one of them is empty, one is about 50% full, and 3 are nearly 100% full.

Do I know what is going on inside of Virginia? Nope. Am I doing the right things to manage the situation? Not sure of that either. Maybe in a week or two I will have a better idea- or maybe I won't.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Garden Bees

I got the camera back yesterday after missing it for a few weeks. I had to go out this morning and find some bees in the garden that would pose for some pictures.

This first photo is one of the bees pollinating our yellow squash.

This next photo shows a bee collecting nectar from one of the many clover blossoms in our lawn.

This next set contains photos of the hollyhocks. They are a good source of pollen- they produce a ton of it. But I think the bees use them as a nectar source as well.

These last two are photos of a bee as it was pollinating our cantaloupe vines.

The cucumbers do have blossoms but I could not find any bees on them this morning. We also have some sunflowers at one end of the garden. I am sure we will have some pictures of them later on this summer.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Progress Is Slow

I peeked in on the bees today. They are making little progress in the honey supers. I guess there probably is not a real strong nectar flow going on right now. The alfalfa flow was pretty intense at first but as the summer goes on it becomes less and less intense even though it continues to bloom. As the hay alfalfa grows after it is cut and blooms again we should get another strong flow for about a week or so. I understand that spotted knapweed is blooming right now in other parts of the country. Do we even have spotted knapweed here in Wyoming? And if so, do we have enough around Lovell to even make a difference?

Anyway, I checked them out last week and found that Virginia still had no eggs. I could have moved a frame of eggs from Georgia over to Virginia and let them raise a new queen, but that would have taken extra time to raise her, wait for her to mate, and then wait for her to get into a good laying routine. I decided to order a Russian hybrid queen from The Walter T Kelley Company. They could not ship her this week due to the high heat in the Midwest- nobody wants a cooked queen to arrive in the mail. She will be shipped early next week. The queen plus shipping and handling cost about $30- now that's an expensive bug! It does seem like a lot if you think of her as just a bug, but it seems pretty reasonable to me considering all you get out of her.

I decided to go with a Russian hybrid for a few of reasons. I have heard that they are hard workers and don't mind chilly rainy weather. I have read comments from other beekeepers in the Beesource forums that Russians will get out and start working before the sun is all the way up and even when it is chilly and rainy. They have said that when their other bees are tucked away inside the hives the Russian are out working. Another reason is that Russians apparently build up more slowly in the spring. That might not be good for southern beekeepers who need big numbers for strong nectar flows in March, but I am hoping that it will translate into fewer bees and thus less swarming before the big nectar flow starts in June. I have also read that they are a very hardy breed and over-winter better than other breeds and that they are more naturally resistant to mites, nosema, and other pests. These last reasons are not as critical to me as I have not seen a single varroa mite or any other pest in the three years I have had my bees, they have not had any problem over-wintering, and so far nosema has not been bad enough to cause any lasting effect on either hive.

I mentioned in my last post that Georgia had filled the queen excluder in with wax and had effectively sealed the workers out of the supers. I had cleaned out the excluder and placed it back on the hive. Last week they were in the process of sealing it off again, so I removed it completely. Today I was a little worried that the queen might have moved up and laid eggs in the honey supers. Both of the supers were full of bees but there were no eggs or brood up there. That is good. Last year I removed the excluder and ended up with brood in the supers and then had a heck of a time getting the queen back down in the deep hive bodies.

So there we are- Virginia is still queenless with four supers. The bees are making slow progress filling them up with honey. Her Russian hybrid queen should arrive sometime next week. Georgia is queen-right and is also making slow progress in the two supers on top of her hive.

Some good news- Chris and the kids are coming home today! I have not seen them for 2 weeks. It will be so nice to have everybody home again. They are also bringing the camera back with them so next post there should be some pictures to accompany all this text.

Friday, July 15, 2011


Wow, I haven't said anything about the bees in quite a while. I had to go back and reread my previous post to remember what has been going on.

First I had better apologize for not including any pictures. Chris and the kids have left me home alone for a couple of weeks and took the camera with them. You will have to try to see it all in you mind's eye.

Let's see... When I last posted about a month ago I was checking on the bees a while after Georgia swarmed. We were waiting for Georgia's new queen to start laying eggs. While she did not have any eggs there were still a lot of bees. I had put a honey super on each hive and found that Virginia was storing some nectar up there but Georgia had not stored any.

The alfalfa and Russian olive bloom started on about June 20th. White dutch clover that shows up in so many yards started blooming shortly before. I had put a second super on each hive in anticipation of this big nectar flow and hoped that the bees would fill them up. At the end of June we left town for a while. (I came back after ten days but Chris and the kids are still gone.) Before we left I decided to throw on a third super just to make sure they would have room- I was feeling pretty optimistic. I also checked the brood boxes and found that Virginia now had no eggs (she may have swarmed) and Georgia now had a laying queen.

I arrived back home and found that Virginia had filled all 3 supers 75-90% with nectar! I was very excited and quickly threw on a fourth super. Virginia still had no eggs, however. If she did swarm earlier it might have been too early for her new queen to start laying. I will have time in a few days to check on her again. If I still don't find any eggs I will be ordering a new queen from a supplier. I think I would like to try a Russian queen this time if I can.

After seeing how much nectar Virginia had collected I was excited to look into Georgia. Much to my disappointment Georgia's supers were completely empty. As I removed the last super I discovered that the queen excluder was almost completely clogged with wax and propolis. The bees had effectively sealed off the honey supers- they couldn't have stored nectar there if they had wanted to. I also found that they were back filling the broodnest with honey. There were still eggs and uncapped brood, but there wasn't much room for the queen to lay. I removed the excluder, cleaned it out (placing the excluder on several layers of newspaper and then going after it with a hairdryer is a pretty quick way to clean it out), and put it back in the hive. Maybe I should have kept it out- I guess we will find out in a few days. I am hoping the bees will move all that nectar/honey in the broodnest up into the super and give the queen a little more room to lay.

I removed two of the empty supers from Georgia and will put them back on as they are needed. The two hives are not looking very symmetrical right now as one hive is standing tall with four supers and the other is stunted with just one.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Post Swarm Check-Up

I peeked in the hives a few days ago. I just wanted to see how much progress they were making in the honey super.

They each had one medium honey super I put on a while back. Then on May 25th I checked to see how much nectar they had collected. Virginia had stored next to nothing but Georgia had filled about 4 frames a quarter of the way with nectar. With the fruit tree bloom over and the alfalfa bloom not yet started I wasn't sure if there was enough nectar coming in to make a difference.

Since I was just going to peek under the hood for a second I didn't bother smoking the bees. They were very calm and didn't give me any trouble. I looked at about 5 frames in Virginia's super first and found that she had stored a fair amount nectar in about 4 or 5 frames. I close her up and went over to Georgia who swarmed not too long ago.

After seeing the progress Virginia had made I was very hopeful for Georgia, but, to my disappointment, Georgia had almost no nectar in the super. I thought that maybe the bees had consumed it all as they were preparing to swarm. The bees that are planning on leaving with a swarm will gorge themselves on honey and nectar so they have something to live on before they are able to collect nectar for their new home.

As I was about to close Georgia up I decided that maybe I should peek in the brood boxes to see what was left after the swarm. Even though I did not have my smoker with me the bees were very calm even while I was down in the brood nest. I did not see any eggs or larva but I did see quite a bit of capped brood. I also came across a handful of queen cells. They were not hanging off the bottom of the frames like many swarm cells do- these were about halfway up the frames so I am hoping they were supercedure cells rather than more swarm cells. I also found that the bees were filling the brood nest with nectar.

It is not too surprising that there were no eggs or larva. Since the hive swarmed they were either left queenless until the other queens emerge or there was a new virgin queen that would not have had time to mate and start lying eggs. Even though the bees are filling the brood boxes with nectar there is still a lot of space for the new queen to lay and as the capped brood emerges there will be even more space. I figure that they will move the nectar back up into the supers once the queen starts laying and needs more space.

I was surprised to find that Georgia was still so full of bees. Especially considering that the swarm that left her appeared so large. I think that she will recover nicely and will still have a good productive year.

I did put another super on top of each hive- they now have two medium honey supers. They don't need them yet but alfalfa and Russian olives should be blooming soon (last year they both bloomed about June 20th) I expect nectar to be coming in fast and furious when that happens.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


One of the hives decided to swarm today. I assume it was Georgia as she was the strongest of the two hives and had a noticeably larger population.

I was in the middle of my lunch break when my cell phone rang. It was Chris, my wife, calling to tell me that our neighbor had just stopped by to tell her that our bees were hanging out in her bushes. She thought that they had all left the hive and landed in her yard. She was not at all upset or afraid- she really thought it was kind of neat. She just thought we might want to take them back.

Chris would have collected them herself, but I wanted to get in on the action too. It took me half an hour to get home then we rounded up the gear and the box we were going to put them in. As we walked around the corner into the neighbor's yard we walked into a big cloud of bees. They were just in the process of taking off again! We followed the cloud down the block and suddenly they were gone- we couldn't figure out which way they went.

Chris got a few pictures of the swarm before I got home.

So much for my minimalist approach this year. Last year my attempts to prevent swarming left the hives queenless and this year we lost a bunch of our bees in a swarm. It would have been nice to have recovered this swarm and started a third hive.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

We Have Nectar!

This is just a quick update on the status of the hives. Back on May 13th we inspected the hives and put a medium honey super on top of each hive. The bees had plenty of room in the brood nest, but since dandelions and fruit trees were starting to bloom we thought we would give the bees room to store honey if they needed it. We have not had a lot of sunny calm days since then, but since today we are getting a break from the rain I decided to take a quick look in the supers to see if they had made any progress up there.

I first popped the top off Virginia and looked through a few frames. The super had quite a few bees up in it but was certainly not full of bee by any means. I looked at four frames and found a only five or six cells with nectar on each frame. I was not too surprised by this considering the relatively little time the bees have had to forage.

I then moved over to Georgia and found the super very full of bees. I looked at five frames and found significant nectar on three of them. Each of the three frams was about 1/4 full of nectar. These two photos show the nectar shining in the sunlight.Just think of what Georgia could have accomplished if we had had decent weather! I do hope that the weather dries out so the bees can take advantage of the fruit trees etc. before they finish blooming.

As for the fewer number of bees in Georgia- here are my thoughts (I could be wrong and probably
am): Back on May 13th we discovered 2 queens in Georgia's hive. They were just a couple of inches apart and one of them was missing a wing. I do not think they were in the middle of swarming or the existing queen would have swarmed before the new queen emerged from her queen cell. Since one of the queens was missing a wing I figure the she was the existing queen and the bees had superceded with a new queen. I have heard that the mother and daughter queens can live side by side for a while in this situation. If the existing queen either left or died there would be a period of time with no brood production before her daughter had time to mate and start laying eggs. That could explain the fewer numbers in Virginia's hive.

In any case, it looks like we are getting started with this years honey production. Can't wait!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Photos Of Nectar Flows

We have had a few days of rain which has kind of put a damper on the bees' ability to get out and forage for nectar. But today has been a beautiful day so I took the opportunity to get out with the camera and snap a few photos of the girls while at work.

The dandelions are in full bloom right now and our yard is one big yellow field. If the sun is shining and there isn't much wind you can see the bees fly up around your feet with every step.

The dandelions are a welcome sight in the spring. They are among the first flowers to bloom after the willows get under way and are a major pollen and nectar sources for springtime.

A lot of fruit trees are also getting underway. These next two photos are from the pear tree in our back yard.

The bees do seem to enjoy the pear blossoms but so far that has not translated into a lot of pears on the tree. We are usually lucky to get just one or two. I am not aware of a lot of pear trees in town. For all I know, this may be the only one.

The next two are bees on the apple tree also in the back yard.

There are a lot of apple trees in town and I think they are all blooming right now.

Besides apple trees there are a lot of crab apple trees in town. Since our community is not large the entire town is within easy foraging distance of the hives. This next photo is a crab apple tree just around the block from our house.
You can see how it is covered in pink/purple blossoms. That looks like a lot of nectar to me.

These next two photos show some little purple flowers that have been springing up in vacant lots and other open spaces. I do not know what they are called but the bees seem to like them well enough.

These purple flowers seem to spread quickly and I'm sure no one wants them coming up in their yards, but I don't mind them on the canal banks supplying forage for the bees.

Besides these trees and flowers in the preceding photos it seems like just about every hedge, shrub, and flowering tree is bursting in blossom. If we can just get some nice sunny warm days the bees might be able to pack away a little honey.

These last two photos were taken this morning. The bees were very busy taking off to go foraging as well as performing orientation flights. I wanted to get a picture showing how many were in the air.

These photos do not quite show how many bees were actually in the air. But if you multiply the bees you see here by 5 or 6 you might get the idea.

Last year the bees continued to fill the supers up with nectar even after the main dandelion flow and the fruit tree flows were finished and before the alfalfa bloom started. I suppose there must be other various wildflowers and weeds along the canals, ditch banks, and road sides. Last year the alfalfa bloom started on about June 20th- that is when honey production cranks up in earnest. I think that this spring hasn't been quite as cool and wet as last year so maybe things will really start moving a little earlier than last year.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Queens... Living And Dead

We finally made it back into the hives today. It had been a while. This year I am taking more of a minimalist approach to managing the hives. There are two reasons for this. First, I have just been so dang busy this year. I have hardly had time to think about the bees much less actively manage them. Secondly, last year I started feeding sugar syrup and pollen patties when it started warming up at the end of March. Both hive populations built up explosively and then I was left trying to prevent swarming by opening up the brood chamber on more than one occasion. With all those manipulations both hives ended up going queen-less for a good portion of the summer. This year I fed them bee candy and crystallized honey to get them through until the nectar flows got underway this spring. Here is what we found today:

We started with Virginia. I did not want to go through every frame, just check on a few to make sure the queen had been laying and to see if they were getting crowded. On the very first frame we pulled we saw two queens a few inches apart. This was very exciting. I had not seen a queen in either hive since shortly after we hived the original packages in 2009. Here is a photo of one ofthe queens.

I don't know why there were two queens in the hive or if there might have been more somewhere in there. If you look closely you can see that this queen is missing a wing. Maybe she was the old queen and is being superceded because of her injury. Who knows?

Both hives have some empty frames so there is plenty of space for the queens to lay.

During the last inspection back in April, both queens were laying in loose spotty patterns. Here is an example of their brood patterns lately.

The pattern is looking a lot better!

We came across two queens in Georgia as well. These queens were not live adult bees, though. As I pulled the top box off we found this next image on top of the frames below.

It is a photo of two queen pupae that were apparently in queen cells on the bottom of one of the frames in the upper box. Queen cells hang so low that they frequently get attached to the frames below them. The cells were torn open exposing these to pupae. Since they were on the bottoms of the frames they would be in swarm cell position. I am not sure why the bees would be making swarm cells as there is plenty of space in the hive for the queen to continue laying. In remaining consistent with my minimalist approach this year I am going to assume that the bees know what they are doing and will let them figure things out themselves.

The bees have been very active for the last several weeks. I have seen lots of pollen coming in. In fact, here is a photo of a frame full of pollen.

It was really kind of pretty- an entire frame packed full of bright yellow pollen.

Dandelions are in full bloom right now as are some plum trees and a few apples. The apple trees in our yard will blossom shortly and the pear blossoms are ready to pop open any minute. The crab apple trees around town are also very close to blooming.

With these current nectar flows and those that are about to start we went ahead and put a honey super on each of the hives. I spaced the frames out to nine frames in a ten frame super. I tried this last year, and it makes it easier to uncap the frames at honey harvest time as the comb is drawn out a little deeper and extends beyond the edges of the frames.

If it stays nice and warm maybe the alfalfa will bloom a little earlier than it did last year and honey production will crank up into high gear.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Spring Cleaning

Earlier in the week I made it into the hives for the first inspections of the year. Each inspection took a while as there was a lot of cleaning up to do. A whole winter's worth of wax and propolis doesn't clean up easily. Everything was stuck together and there was a mess of bees, wax, etc. in the bottom that needed to be cleaned up.

I modified my management style this year. Last year I was so excited to get the colonies built up that I started feeding sugar syrup and pollen patties in about the middle of March. The populations increased quickly, and by the time summer was coming on I was trying to prevent swarming. With all of the hive manipulations to keep them from swarming both hives ended up going queenless for a good part of the summer. This year I decided to hang tight and only feed them bee candy to keep them from starving.

So here we are in the middle of April and I have seen pollen coming for about a week and the bees have been doing orientation flights for quite a while. As I dug through the hives I found quite a bit of honey and a fair amount of pollen left from last year as well as new pollen from this spring. Both hives have good healthy populations with eggs, larva, and capped brood. I am glad I haven't been feeding sugar syrup or the numbers would be booming way too early.

This first photo shows a few bees on a frame with a small bit of honey.

There were several more frames with a lot more honey than this.

This next photo just shows some of the brood. This pattern is kind of spotty but I suppose it will get better as the queen gets things cranking this summer.

Here is the bottom board of Virginia's hive. There was a lot of bits of wax, sugar from the bee candy, pollen, and piles of dead bees.

Finally, this last photo shows the underside of Virginia's screened bottom board. It is tipped up on its side leaning back against the other hive. Last summer some of the bees crawled underneath and started building this comb. I don't have any idea why they felt compelled to do this. I cleaned it all up but wonder if they will just do the same thing again this year. All the eggs and brood were in the upper deep hive bodies in each hive. Since I had torn the hives completely apart to clean it all up I too the opportunity to reverse the hive bodies. The queens should now have plenty of room to move up and fill all those empty frames with brood. Hopefully this will prevent any swarming while still building numbers to be ready for the nectar flows in the coming months.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...