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.

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