Queenright Hives

Queenright: A term used to describe a hive or colony of bees that has a producing queen. (Definition from the Maine State Beekeepers’ Association’s “Beekeeping Glossary.”)

We checked our hives Friday, and both are (finally) queenright.

<Insert sigh of relief>

Buzzers’ Roost have accepted their new Saskatraz queen. She’s laying — there were eggs and larvae, as well as a fair amount of brood  — but the hive’s population is still low. Given the rough spring they’ve had, this is not surprising. Since they still have honey from winter, we put on a little pollen patty, closed up the hive and left them to it.

FreeBees appear to be thriving, with lots of capped brood, eggs and larvae, and foragers lugging in nectar and pollen from dawn to dusk. Because their population is growing so quickly, we gave them pollen also and put another box on Monday. We were planning to feed them sugar water, but realized we had excess honey in the freezer from Buzzers’ Roost — the hive’s winter bees proved to be very frugal — so instead, we put some of that and all the drawn comb we had in the new box. Drawing comb takes a lot of energy, so providing foundation that’s already drawn will make it easier for the hive to continue to grow.

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FreeBees keeping an eye on us as we check their hive.

At last, The Engineer and I can feel cautiously hopeful about our hives.

On a side note, I now see why many beekeepers recommend starting with two hives. With one, we had nothing to compare to and no resources when our hive ran into trouble. Having two hives means we can “borrow” honey or drawn comb, for example, even supplement a weaker hive with capped brood from the stronger hive if necessary.

Looking forward to next week, we will be doing a sugar shake, followed by an alcohol wash on both hives (to monitor for Varroa). With luck, the MAQS should have wiped out any of the nasty buggers in Buzzers’ Roost, but we’ll likely need to re-treat FreeBees. If you remember, we treated them with Oxalic Acid, which kills mites on the bees, but not under the capped brood. The hive’s population is now large enough to withstand that treatment, and we’ll  do it when we expect a spell of slightly cooler weather. IMG_0151-2
I’ll leave you with this shot of the FreeBees bridging (sometimes called “festooning,” which I love) when we separated their frames to inspect the hive. I’ve read several explanations of this behavior and have chosen to accept it as another mystery of the Apis Mellifera.

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Bee-wildered by “The Bee Movie”

Last week, The Engineer and I finally watched “The Bee Movie,” mainly because several friends insisted we had to see it.

If you’re a fan of the flick, please close this window and walk away now.

For those who have chosen to continue reading, let me first say I understand the film is not a documentary meant to educate, but a children’s movie. But, I also know children’s learning is not confined to the classroom. With minds like sponges, they absorb information in whatever form it takes.

Let’s begin with what “The Bee Movie” got right.

Now, let’s look at what the movie got wrong.

“Pollen jocks”? Seriously? In a hive, drones do two things: Eat and fly to the drone congregation area (DCA) to try to mate with a queen. Oh, and die. I guess that’s actually three things.

If you have been reading my blog or know anything about bees, you already understand this.

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The blue arrow is pointing to a drone. He, unlike his half-sisters, does not work. He will never be a “pollen jock” or do any of the countless jobs offered to Barry B. Benson and his buddies. The smaller bees are workers. All female, they do every job in the hive.

So, why did Jerry Seinfeld write a film about “pollen jocks”? I can only assume he had a deep-seated need to be the voice of the lead character (Barry B.Benson), and thus decided to re-write nature.

Seriously, writing about male bees pollinating is like writing about bulls giving birth. A complete fallacy.

Meanwhile, the females in the movie get to spend all their time oohing and ahing over the “pollen jocks” or, in the case of Barry B. Benson’s mother, acting the role of a 50s housewife.

I know, I know, you’re probably saying, “Kym, it’s just a kid’s movie. What does it matter?”

It matters because the movie implies adventure is confined to the males of every species, including the insect world, which is untrue. It matters because, once again, little girls see boys having all the fun while the females in the movie are confined to the sidelines.

Okay, so I sound like a raging feminist. That’s okay. I am a feminist, and right now, I am raging.

But back to the movie — why couldn’t the lead role have been a (factually accurate) female worker bee having the same adventures Barry B. Benson did? There is no logical reason to reverse the facts.

I don’t expect an animated children’s movie to be completely accurate, but this movie could have easily been both factual and fun.

Instead, it left me angry, bee-wildered, and disappointed on behalf of our girls and all girls.

Update: FreeBees

We gave FreeBees a few days to settle into their new location before opening the hive to have a look. IMG_0133
It was lovely. Enlarge the photo to see nearly every open cell with either a perfectly positioned egg or larva. The queen has been doing her job because the hive has about three frames that look like this.

And here’s a closeup of that queen, who we are calling Ziska at the suggestion of my friend Kate. Ziska’s long, tapered body helps her position those eggs right in the middle where they belong. IMG_0136-2Initially, we planned to use Formic Pro strips for Varroa treatment, but the company rep at field day said a hive needs six frames of bees to do a full-strength treatment. FreeBees has about five.

That was an “Uh-oh” moment for me. Buzzers’ Roost is a small hive, maybe too small for the full MAQS treatment we gave it, which might explain the number of dead bees.

MAQS are similar to Formic Pro, but Formic Pro takes ten days at full strength. The half strength treatment takes twenty. You can’t feed the bees at any time during the treatment, so we chose to use Oxalic Acid (OA). The trade-off is OA only kills Varroa on the bees, not under the caps like the strips.

This means we’ll be keeping a close eye on our Varroa counts and will probably end up using the strips during the early fall/late summer once we know the bees have plenty of their own food.

Beekeeping, it seems, sometimes involves compromise.

With OA, you seal the hive before inserting the wand through the large opening of the entrance reducer. The foragers below were trying to figure out how to get back in the hive with the temporarily installed reducer. (Buzzers’ Roost, in the background, also has some entrance activity at its fully open entry.) IMG_0140The FreeBees foragers are more active than Buzzers’ Roost’s, out and about early each morning until late evening. It rained today, and I was astounded to see some returning and/or going out even in the rain. It was cloudy when we did the OA, but in the 3-1/2 minutes it took to do the treatment, we developed a traffic jam. IMG_0141
Below you can see the bees fanning, bums up, beating their wings to get ride of the scent after we removed the wand.IMG_0143
Later this week, we will add some food to this hive to help the girls as they build comb and raise babies. We’ll also have a peek at Buzzers’ Roost to see if they’ve accepted the queen and whether or not she’s laying if they have. They still had some honey, but we’ll check to see if they need fed as well.

Until then, Bee happy!

P.S. I’m not sure if I mentioned it before, but these are Saskatraz bees, just like our most recent queen in Buzzers’ Roost.

FreeBees!

On Saturday, 2 June, we attended the Lorain County Beekeepers Association Field Day, held in conjunction with Queen Right Colonies at the shop’s location in Spencer, Ohio, near an Amish community.

As we passed through the town center (which may or may not have a traffic light — I can’t remember), traffic came to a standstill. We realized it was because there were several buggies in front of us, and they were also heading to the Field Day.

We pulled in behind a buggy, and parked in knee-high grass.

It was a fun day, with several speakers, beekeeping talks around several hives of bees, and alpaca shearing. CC77EE85-510C-42F1-9E12-4C501512B4D0
In my previous post, I forgot to mention that Queen Right is also a bit of a menagerie, which includes several alpacas. The one above seemed to be saying “Get me out of here!” as she gets a cut and manicure. But temperatures last week soared into the upper 80s and 90s, so we can be sure the animals were a lot more comfortable afterwards.  And the two shearers handled the herd members gently and carefully.

More important to this post is the fact that there were raffles, and after an outlay of $20 on tickets, I won the best prize — a hive of bees.

Can you believe it? We’d just been talking about how we hoped to eventually be work up to two hives, and a few hours later, our wishes came true. How lucky is that?

Naming this new hive required much discussion (over a beer or two) before The Engineer came up with the perfect moniker.

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m pleased to announce Buzzers’ Roost’s new neighbor will be called … FreeBees!

Once More, Same as Before

We killed the Queen of Hearts on Monday.

We didn’t mean to do it, but we did.

She’d lost her red marking, so we decided if we found her, we’d mark her.

The procedure seemed simple enough, and we had all the right tools courtesy of our Ohio State Beekeepers Diagnostic Kit.

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Picture of Queen Marking Plunger from Queen Right Colonies online catalog

Basically, you catch the queen, gently move her to the end of the tube with the plunger, hold her still while marking her thorax, wait for the ink to dry, and release her back in her hive.

At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work.

In our case, we caught our queen, gently moved her to the end of the tube, held her, marked her, waited a few minutes, pulled out the plunger, and … she was dead.

Did I plunge too hard? Did The Engineer use too much paint? Perhaps it was a bit of both.

Either way, poor Queen of Hearts is gone, leaving only some fuzzy, golden bees as a legacy.

Once again, we called Queen Right Colonies, and lucked out. They had Olivarez Saskatraz queens in stock. And this would be a good place to mention how lucky we are to have a resource like QRC within driving distance. Owned and operated by the St.Clair family, this small shop is a treasure trove of all things bee, including package bees and queens. And anytime we’ve had any question about how to proceed, they are willing to explain exactly what we need to do. (Blue Sky Bee Supply employees have also been quite helpful.)

Anyway, I was able to pick up our queen before I went to work on Wednesday. Since we wouldn’t be able to put her in until that evening, I asked what I should do with her until then.

One of the always helpful St.Clair daughters answered with a question of her own: “You’re going to work?”

Me: “Yes.”

St.Clair daughter: “Put her in your purse. She’ll be fine.”

Me: “Really?”

St.Clair daughter: “I’ve taken them to the grocery store. She’ll be fine.”

And that, friends is how our new queen, Saski, and her attendants ended up spending a day tucked away in my purse in a locker at work.

Later that evening, we put her in the hive.

Today, we opened the hive just enough to see the candy in the queen cage had been eaten through.

Now, we wait for at least a week to give her a chance to be fully accepted by our hive. We’ll probably give her ten days, possibly more, to give her the best chance for a future with the rest of our girls.

Also, I don’t think we’ll try marking our own queen again.

 

Death Comes to Buzzers’ Roost (Again)

Dead bees are part of beekeeping, just as death is part of life. That knowledge doesn’t make it any easier to see a sight like the one below, especially when we know it was caused by our actions. (Please excuse the blurred picture. I didn’t have on my bee jacket, veil, or hat, and the girls get a little testy after this treatment.)

These bees died after we used Mite Away Quick Strips (MAQS) to treat for Varroa. You may recall my post last fall about our experience with MAQS. We had problems with Yellow Jackets raiding the hive through the wide-open front entrance although I don’t remember this many dead bees. We might have been so focused on the Yellow Jackets that we didn’t notice.

So, why use MAQS? There are several good reasons. It’s the only treatment currently available that kills mites on capped brood and the only one you can use with honey supers on the hive. More importantly, responsible beekeepers employ Integrated Pest Management (IPM) using a variety of treatments. This helps decrease the likelihood of the mites developing resistance to a particular treatment.

Our treatment plan includes MAQS, Oxalic Acid vaporizing, and drone frames. If we ever manage to get a large enough hive to split, we’ll do that too.

We also use a sticky board and sugar roll to count our mite load and plan to try an alcohol wash this season just to get an idea of how many mites the sugar method is missing.

Though it looks horrible, having this many bees die is not a tragedy, but a side-effect. It’s better than helping cause a treatment to become useless. And it’s much better than allowing the Varroa load to get high enough to cause a hive collapse .

Because when a hive collapses, the bees that survive join other hives in the area.

The mites go with them, starting the problem all over for whichever beekeeper happens to be unfortunate enough to live nearby.

For more information on IPM, visit the following sites.

Ohio State University Bee Lab

Mid-Atlantic Apicultural Research & Extension Consortium


Long May She Reign!

News flash: The queen lives on!

Perhaps we owe thanks to the previous queen for blessing our hive with easygoing offspring who acted against instinct and didn’t kill their would-be monarch. Maybe this queen possesses some extra-strong pheromones. Or it could be the stars just aligned in her favor. We know this apparent miracle isn’t due to skill or knowledge on our part.

But when we finally opened the hive today to see what was going on, this is what we found. IMG_0072
Notice anything?

If you look very closely, you’ll see two different kinds of bees, darker Carniolans from our previous queen and lighter yellow ones from the new Italian one.

In the second picture, you might even see that the new yellow bees seem a little fuzzier.

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Below, you’ll see larvae and capped brood, and the difference between the two races is more distinct.

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What we never saw was the queen, whom we’re calling “The Red Queen” because she was originally marked with red — this year’s color. Unfortunately, that mark disappeared by the time we released her, which is partly why we didn’t spot her.  (Our last queen was marked yellow, but we never called her anything but “The Queen.”)

I’ll admit the hive has seemed quite active for one filled with winter survivors. And you probably won’t believe this, but a few days ago, I saw a bee fly past our kitchen window and noticed it wasn’t dark like ours from last year. I went out to watch the foragers entering and leaving the hive, but when I didn’t see any yellow bees, I assumed the one I’d seen was from a wild hive somewhere.

Then today, before our inspection, The Engineer mentioned he’d seen some yellow bees around the hive.

Did we dare hope? All the books said a hive with laying workers would kill a new queen.

And yet … and yet … they didn’t.

This just proves once again the old beekeepers are right: Bees don’t read the books. IMG_0075
Here’s another picture of our diversely populated hive. (It does make you wonder, doesn’t it? If two races of bees can get along, why can’t people?)

We also saw several drones. I managed to get a picture of one for you, and even more amazingly, managed to mark it with an arrow so you can see him.IMG_0076
Notice how he’s bigger, with huge eyes. That’s to find a queen to mate with. Other than that, they kind of blunder around begging food from the workers.

<insert joke about males and their food and sex-seeking behavior here>

All the activity was going on upstairs in the honey super we left on for the winter. (If you wonder about our reasons for that, please read my earlier posts). The bottom deep box has only drawn comb and honey.

This is not how it should be, so we’re having a think about how we’re going to remedy this. We’ll go in again on Saturday if weather permits and do some rearranging. Then, we’ll treat for Varroa with Mite Away Quick Strips, followed by a sticky board count and a sugar roll and/or alcohol wash.

I’ll keep you posted.

Thanks to my friend, Kate (from the blog “Tall Tales From Chiconia”) for this post’s title. She writes about quilting and life in the Land Down Under.

 

Look what I found in our Yellow Jacket trap! She’s very big so I think she’s a queen, which means there will be that many fewer Yellow Jackets harassing our bees this summer!

Please Release Me, Let Me Go

Queen update: We had a look in the hive Saturday. I fully expected to find the corpse of our new queen. The Engineer was more optimistic, pointing out our bees have always been fairly mellow, that maybe she’d been accepted.

We were both wrong. She and her attendants were still in the cage. Directly above them was this puff of new comb. They were so light and airy I wasn’t completely sure the cells weren’t paper until I put a match to them.

It’s burr comb. I should have known. A more experienced beekeeper could possibly explain why the bees suddenly decided there was too much space beneath their inner cover, but I can’t.

Thats how burr comb is used – to fill in open space in the hive. This has to do with “bee space,” a concept discovered by Lorenzo Langstroth, who noticed bees fill in spaces less than 1/4″ with propolis and space over 3/8″ with burr comb. He designed hives to accommodate this, and it’s Langstroth hives that are most commonly used in the US.

But back to our queen quandary.

The the situation in the hive hadn’t changed so we had no reason to feel any more optimistic about her future welfare.

On the other hand, the workers didn’t seem particularly hostile to their would-be monarch. Most didn’t even seem interested.

We debated a few minutes.

The Engineer: “I think we should release her.”

Me: “They’ll kill her.”

The Engineer: “They’ve fed her for ten days. Look at them. They’re not biting the cage or trying to sting her.”

Me: “Well, it’s not like it will make a difference. They’ll probably kill her whatever we do.”

In the end – partly to just get it over – we opened the cage and watched her scurry into the hive.

I fully expect we’ll soon be looking for a nuc in the near future.