May-Bees or May-Bees Not

We’re up to four hives now, if all works out, which is kind of funny because our aim has always been two.

But, here’s the thing: Strong hives swarm. If a beekeeper wants to try to prevent that, we have to split them before they get too crowded.

Ergo, we have four hives.

You may recall a month ago, when we had a plan to split California Girls and ended up splitting Buzzers’ Roost instead because they were building queen cells.

Well, Cali Girls have only gotten more crowded, and Saturday was the day to split them. We had to wait a month because we treated both big hives with Formic Pro, which is effective, but has always resulted in bee loss for us. Last year, when we treated, we lost two queens during the course of the treatment.

Naturally, correlation does not equal causation, and there were a lot of queen problems last year, so the two facts may have been unrelated.

Still … this year, we chose to do the“one strip” treatment, putting in a single Formic Pro strip for ten days, and then replacing it with another for an additional ten days. (The other option is a single fourteen-day treatment with two strips.)

This meant we couldn’t do anything with the main hives for twenty days. And we didn’t want to mess with the split until they had a chance to requeen, though last week we did take peek, and saw no signs of eggs, larvae or a queen.

Meanwhile, California Girls were bearding like crazy, so we knew they were getting cramped. Bearding is something bees do on hot days, but Cali Girls were doing it all the time.

And I mean All. The. Time. Morning, day, and night. Before the recent hot weather even arrived.

They looked kind of like the picture below, which is actually from today (90s and quite humid).

Look at the hive next to them. No beard whatsoever. I’m beginning to think Saskatraz bees like to beard. I read one blog post that referred to them as “active,”, and they are definitely that. In both this Saskatraz colony and the one we had last year, there was a a lot of going in and out, even when the other hives showed little activity.

As for the continued bearding, we think this hive is still crowded, and will be adding more frames soon. Also, I’ve noticed when it cools down at night, the bearding diminishes substantially, something it wasn’t doing before Saturday’s split, so they’re better.

unnamed-2

Approaching Saturday’s inspection, we knew we had much to accomplish and had to plan accordingly to make sure we got everything done.

Here was our list:

  1. Look again in the split (NewBees II) from Buzzers’. If there was still no signs of life, we would need to combine the bees from that hive with one of our other hives. We planned to make that decision but not act on it. If they were doing well, quit feeding and add frames to the box we’d been using to feed from.
  2. Do a general check on Buzzers’ for queen activity, honey production, crowding, etc. If there were queen cells, we were going to clear the frame of bees and use those cells in the California split since Buzzers’ Roost (II) was an Ohio-raised nuc with a nice fat over-wintered Ohio queen who was a proven layer. If needed, we would add another honey super.
  3. Check and split California Girls. We decided to do this a little differently than in the past, by just removing one of the boxes after making sure both had eggs. If we found queen cells and/or the queen, we would make sure they went in different boxes, unless we had queen cells from Buzzers’, in which case, we’d scrape off the Cali queen cells and use the Buzzers’ cells instead.
  4. Feed the split.
  5. Add another deep to the orginal California Girls and an additional honey super if they were still crowded and their first super was full. The added deep would contain open frames, but also frames with honey and pollen from last year.
  6. Feed probiotics (Super DFM) to all hives.
  7. Check and replace beetle hives. The good news is we haven’t seen beetles this year, which we put down to using nematodes. Again, correlation is not causation, but we had real problems with these little nasties, and they disappeared as soon as we started with the nematodes.
  8. We discussed removing the first supers if they were full, but our schedules preclude  extracting in the next week, so it was better to just leave them on.

I think that was the list. We actually made a little flow chart to make sure we got it all.

It was a hot day, so hot, in fact, that we ended up taking a water/cool-off break between the Buzzers’ inspection and California Girls.

First up was NewBees (II).
They had built a little comb between the inner cover and top of the their frames, and filled it with honey. When we scraped it off, they all gather round for a slurp.unnamed-13

Then, we took a look inside. There were larvae! And … drum roll, please, The Engineer spotted the queen! She was big and beautiful, but moving too fast for me to get a picture.

They were bringing in pollen and nectar, so we took out the food, gave them DFM, added frames, closed the hive up, and left them to it.

Next, we turned to Buzzers’. They also had larvae. I’ve zoomed in and circled them in the picture on the right. Have a look, then enlarge the one on the left, and see if you can spot the larvae there.

There also still had plenty of bees in the hive despite being split a few weeks ago.unnamed-6
If you look on the bottom of this frame, you’ll see burr comb, which could be mistaken for queen cells if you’ve never seen a queen cell. (Or, like me, you could freak out the first time you see a drone cell.)

Queen cells are shaped more like a peanut. Below are some from last year. The frame on the left is being held sideways (cells would normally be pointed down). Once it gets to the point that they’ve built this many queen cells (and there were many more in that hive), the bees are going to swarm. Ours did despite us splitting them at this point. We were too late.

But, Buzzers’ had no queen cells to steal for for California Girls. In a way, this was good, although it means Cali Girls will have to use eggs to make an emergency queen cell. But the lack of more queen cells means we may have managed to avoid swarming this year.

I’m crossing my fingers because you can never be sure what those girls are going to do.

We also saw Buzzers’ queen, still going strong. Two for two, so far.

I got a nice picture of them festooning on the bottom of a frame, which I’m including simply because I love using the word “festoon.” unnamed-8
Sometimes, you take a frame out, and they do this between frames, like a bee bridge. Maybe I’ll get a photo of that next time, and I’ll be able to use my newly favorite word again. 🙂

Their honey super was full of beautiful honey, just being capped, so we added another super, and left them to it. We put an empty quilt box on to help ventilate the hive. A recent purchase, a quilt box is mostly used to absorb moisture in the winter, but can also be used now.

We took our drink break here. Feel free to do the same.

Finally, we turned our attention to the wild and crazy California Girls.

Looking inside this hive reminded me of inspecting our FreeBees hive (Summer 2018-March 2020, also Saskatraz), which at  I won at Queen Right Colonies‘ Open Day in 2018 .

Like then, there were so many bees they seemed to be boiling up from inside the hive. Not in a bad way — they weren’t aggressive. There were just so many bees.

We’d smoke them so we could pull a frame, they’d go down, and by the time we’d get the frame out, they’d look like this again.

unnamed-10They were also making lots of lovely honey. unnamed-9Clearly, they needed space, and we were there to give it to them.

To make it three for three, we also found this queen. And by “we,” I mean The Engineer spotted all of them. I was most impressed by his finding the NewBees (II) queen because she was both unmarked and fast!

We caught the queen, and put her in the top hive box, which we had moved to make one hive into two. Because there were still so many bees in the box we were leaving for the split, we shook two brood frames of bees from there in with the queen. (By choosing brood frames, a beekeeper ensures most of the bees we shake are nurse bees, rather than foragers who are oriented to the old hive. Nurse bees will be more likely to stay with the new hive and eventually orient to it.)

The super was full of lovely honey, also in the process of being capped, so we added another super, gave them a beetle trap, and fed them some DFM.

Thus, the original California Girls were now in a new place with a setup of two brood boxes and two supers.

The new split remained in place on the hive stand, with a brood box and another box on top to feed from. We ended up putting some frames in that box on either side of the syrup jars because they still had so many bees. We also fed them pollen patties and DFM. Next week, we’ll probably have to fill the second box with frames, or they’ll start building comb, and it will be a mess.

We can put another deep (brood) box on to use for feeding them, or even a super if they’re making a lot of honey, but won’t mess with them too much while they’re making a new queen. It’s a delicate process, plus it’s important not to give them too much to defend if they don’t have enough bees, probably not a problem with these girls.

They looked like this when we were done. Does that look like an underpopulated hive to you? I half think the quilt box should go on this hive!unnamed-5
We are calling them “MayBees” because Maybee they’ll make a queen.

unnamed-4Our new setup looks like this. Left to right: NewBees(II), MayBees, Buzzers’ Roost (II) (with its quilt box smiley face), and California Girls.

Using the picnic table as a stand for California Girls is temporary. It’s several feet high to inspect without a ladder. You probably don’t need to be told this, but it’s not a good idea to be lifting boxes of bees up and down a ladder (slight understatement).

Hive boxes get very heavy. A deep ten-frame brood box (the big boxes) full of honey can weigh eighty pounds, slightly less for brood, and a full ten-frame honey super (medium boxes on top) can weigh up to fifty, so even Buzzers’ is going to be challenging for us (and by “us,” I mean The Engineer) to lift.

Suffice to say, if I were beekeeping on my own, I’d either be using medium and small boxes or eight-frame boxes, probably a combination of both.

When The Engineer made the hive stand (which has proven perfect for our needs (once he shortened it), we thought we were being optimistic in planning that we might someday in the distant future have three hives. We certainly didn’t expect to have four.

Of course, with bees and Ohio weather and Varroa being what they are, that will probably change.

 

 

 

We Had a Plan

A quick, mostly pictorial update on the hives.

The California Girls hive needed split, we both agreed. The queen’s laying pattern was spotty, and they’d be more likely to get through winter with a locally born and mated queen. Or so we’ve been told.

We gathered the boxes and frames needed to make the split, but chose to check Buzzers’ Roost (II) first.

The hive was packed with bees, with many, many uncapped queen cups.

Last time we had a hive in similar condition, it was FreeBees. With them, we waited a few weeks to make a split, and they ended up swarming anyway.

Determined to avoid a similar error with Buzzers’ Roost (II), we adjusted our plan, and split the hive by taking out a few frames of brood and eggs, shaking in some nurse bees, adding frames of honey and pollen, and giving them sugar water and pollen patties.

We’ll check back in a few weeks and hope to see fresh eggs and larvae. If we don’t see this, we’ll make a decision whether to buy a queen or reunite them with their mother hive and let them swarm (and hope to catch it).

Both hives had tons of pollen, more than I’ve ever seen stored before in one of our hives.

Here are some pictures of Buzzers’ stores.

When we smoke the hive to inspect, the bees sometimes react by sticking their heads in the cells, supposedly to gorge on pollen and nectar in case they have to flee the danger.
The little things on the bottom that look like Kix cereal are capped drone brood.
More colorful pollen, along with glistening nectar. They were also capping honey, but apparently I didn’t get a picture of that.

There were a lot of bees. Nearly every frame was full.

Now we just have to hope the split raises a queen.

Next we turned to California Girls. They’ve also been busy raising babies, but fortunately weren’t quite as crowded as Buzzers.

Here’s a nice frame of brood. See the freshly capped honey at the top left and drone brood on the bottom?

The queen is laying better now. Look closely, and you’ll see the tiny eggs in almost every cell – much nicer than last inspection when she was laying unevenly.

You can also see some larvae in the lower left.

The picture below has everything but pollen! There’s nectar, a few capped brood cells, honey and eggs!

We also saw the queen, always a welcome sight!

And remember this?

And this?

Well, look at it now!

It’s the comb they started building down from the inner cover several weeks ago that we rubber banded to a frame. They’ve filled in almost the whole frame!

If you’re observant, you may notice something about the size of the cells. They’re bigger than usual, which means they’ve been built for drone brood.

This is something we’ll have to keep an eye on because varroa love drone brood, and we don’t want to encourage varroa in our hives. Also, we don’t need that many drones unless we were getting into some serious queen raising, which we’re not.

We did end up putting the honey super we’d intended for Buzzers on California Girls. There’s definitely a nectar flow on, and they’re doing well so we’re giving them space to store it all. It may come off when we split that hive, but that’s a judgment call we’ll make at the time.

On the “Decluttr Kym” front, I sorted out my jeans and am embarrassed to report I gleaned six pairs to donate without even having to think much about it.

And, lastly, the unrest here has caused me to realize our country can’t move forward until we finally admit we were founded on the backbreaking labor of slaves. I’ve heard people say, “That’s over a hundred years ago. It’s ancient history.”

But as a genealogist, I’ve learned a hundred and some years is not ancient history. It’s just a few generations back, and that history creates a culture, both familial and community, that directs our present.

We can’t forget this happened, and although I’m not sure what I can do personally, I know the first step is to learn more about my personal biases and not be afraid to call out others who express more overt racism.

I will start by reading (no surprise there) and forcing myself to sometimes be the unwelcome voice in the room.

Behold, There Was Brood

There’s a quote I read about beekeeping that sums up our experience perfectly. I can’t find the exact words, but it’s something like “The more I learned about bees, the less I knew, until finally I knew nothing at all.”

From our last post, you’ll know there was no eggs, no larvae, and very little brood in any of our hives, with FreeBees having gone the longest with nothing in sight.

Consequently, I had ordered two new queens.

We used to name our queens but have long since stopped – we’ve been through so many. And if you wonder how much this turnover of queens costs, we pay $42 for a marked Saskatraz queen.

It gets expensive, which is why we were so delighted NewBees raised a queen. (That would be the one who has disappeared. Sigh.)

I’m sure part of the problem is we’re not the best at locating our royalty. The only solution for that is keeping on trying.

So, here’s where I admit I know nothing.

Before we put in new queens, we decided to check the hives one nlast time just to verify they weren’t “queen right” (when a hive has a laying queen and all is copacetic), even though we were pretty sure they were queenless (“queen wrong”?).

Buzzers had nothing, and we’re quite sure there’s no queen. She was marked – therefore easier to spot.

NewBees had nothing either. No new brood, no larvae, no eggs, therefore no queen, despite having all of the above a few weeks ago.

FreeBees was a different story. Not only was there now capped brood, there was also larvae.

Surprise!

After thinking about what might explain the no brood, then brood situation in that hive, I’ve come up with a possible scenario.

FreeBees was full of queen cells when we split it. We took out all but one, which we put in NewBees. Then we went to France. When we returned, NewBees was in great shape, but FreeBees was without a queen.

Or so we thought.

I think FreeBees had a queen, but she was a new queen who hadn’t mated yet, or maybe just hadn’t started laying because I think they swarmed while we were gone, leaving behind the new unmated queen. (When bees swarm, the old queen goes with the swarm).

Hence, the temporary lack of new bees.

That’s my theory.

But what do I know?

Today, we introduced the new queens into NewBees and Buzzers, so it’s possible we may end up with three full hives, which wasn’t our plan.

Queenless or queen right, all three hives are still growing heavy with honey, especially FreeBees.

In fact, next week, we’ll be pulling some full deep frames to store for them and replacing them with empties so they don’t get too crowded.

Below are some photos of the queens in their cages with their attendants before we put them in the hive. Sorry, I couldn’t get a really clear shot.

And here are pictures of FreeBees and NewBees hanging out on their front porches due to the heat. This is called “bearding”and sometimes – when there are a lot of bees – it can look like a beard on the hive.

It’s not surprising they’d want to cool off. It’s been in the 90s today, with high humidity. Sitting on the front porch fanning seems a reasonable reaction.

The Bees Knees – A Hive Update

We have a new hive! Okay, so technically, it’s a nuc (nucleus hive – basically a mini hive with only five frames).

It is, of course, named “NewBees.” (What else?)

The Engineer calls it the “Pink Palace,” though it’s actually lavender.

NewBees hive was created using a variation of a “walk away split,” where you take a couple of frames with eggs, larvae, and capped brood from a strong hive, add another frame of honey and pollen and two empty frames (preferably with comb on them), and make a new hive. Before closing up, you shake a frame of nurse bees in (from another frame of brood, which is then returned to the original hive). It’s called a “Walkaway split,” because you then walk away. If you’ve shaken the queen into the new hive, the old hive will create a new queen. If the queen was left in the old hive, the new hive will make one.

We hedged our bets by looking for our old queen before putting the frames into the new hive and making sure there was a nice fat queen cell on one of them. (If you’d like a more thorough explanation of splits, go here: http://www.bushfarms.com/beessplits.htm.)

If you recall, the last time we were able to check FreeBees, they had started making queen cells. For several weeks after that, the weather wasn’t conducive to opening the hives, and I was growing concerned they would swarm either right when we were leaving for our trip or while we were gone.

Thankfully, a window of good weather opened, and we were able to do the split. It was a good thing we did! There were at least ten queen cells in various stages. We chose the fattest one, and scraped off the rest before stealing brood and honey for NewBees.

They still looked crowded, so we also added another honey super. Although we weren’t sure they’d need it, we also knew we’d be gone for two weeks and unable to check.

Many beekeepers recommend relocating a split 2 miles or further from the old hive to prevent drift. But some say if you shake enough nurse bees in, the foragers you shake in will return to the original hive, but the nurse bees won’t because they haven’t yet imprinted the original hive’s location as home because they haven’t been out int the wide, wide world.

We planned to follow the “moving the new hive” plan, but time was short, so we didn’t. I’d also read you can put a board or something in front of the hive to force the bees to reorient. We did that, put on a big jar of food and left them to it.

Poor FreeBees. We also treated them with Formic Pro before we left. The timing wasn’t ideal, coming right after being split, but it needed to be done.

Buzzers were also due for a treatment, but we held off because the new queen seemed to just be settling in.

Fast forward two weeks to our return.

All three hives seem to be thriving, although the weather was once again not our friend. We had a quick look inside NewBees. Saw lots of bees, but no brood or eggs. When I rechecked our resources, I discovered we should not have checked until four weeks. It had been only two.

No wonder they were a little crabby.

A swift look under the hood of Buzzers showed the new queen has found her mojo. Lots of brood, lots of bees in both Buzzers and FreeBees, so we don’t think FreeBees swarmed.

Lots of pollen and nectar coming into all three hives, though you won’t notice much activity in this picture. It’s just to show you what the hives look like right now. Buzzers on the left has the standard two deep boxes and a super. The super has been being used to feed them while we nurse it to full health, but is now empty because we finally managed to treat them (also with Formic Pro). The directions recommend putting on an empty box – something to do with better air flow and less bees dying off.

FreeBees has two deeps and two honey supers with frames for honey. If you look very closely, you can see the metal queen excluder between the deep boxes and the supers.

We also treated NewBees, but they got Oxalic Acid. Oxalic Acid works only on the mites that are phoretic (on the bees). It doesn’t penetrate the capped brood. But NewBees had no capped brood because of the break in the laying cycle as they raise a new queen.

After the treatment, we were standing around watching the NewBees hive (yes, beekeepers actually do this). The Engineer noticed a large, long, fat bee land at the entrance and pointed her out.

Dear readers, we think we actually saw the queen returning from a mating flight!

Quelle excitement!

This leaves us feeling cautiously optimistic about our three hives, although we won’t be able to check either NewBees or Buzzers’ Roost for another couple of weeks. Buzzers have to be left alone while their treatment works, and NewBees need to settle in, hopefully with a new queen. But I hope we’ll have a chance to take a good look at FreeBees in the meantime.

I’ll update you if we do.

Meanwhile here are some photos and a video of bees, and a wasp in France. I took them after a delightful lunch of canard (duck) with mashed potatoes in a cafe in Pompadour. We were supposed to visit Pompadour Chateau, but it was closed, so instead I took pictures of bees. I’m sure the people in the cafe thought we were crazy. I loved this orange bumblebee, with its white bottom, similar to the yellow one in the video below. (We also saw the white-bottomed, yellow ones in England.)

Shaken, Not Stirred: Performing A Sugar Shake/Roll

Check out what our queens have been up to!

This frame is from Buzzers’ Roost (the weaker, over-wintered hive). Look at all that lovely covered brood. These are two sides of one frame. Notice the glistening nectar on the left in the top photo? And can you spot the queen? We were happy to see she’s now laying in the deep box instead of the smaller medium one from the winter (also referred to as a super).IMG_0185
IMG_0186

Here’s a frame full of larvae and eggs.IMG_0187

And this one had pollen (near bottom), capped honey (bottom right), some capped brood, and larvae. If you can’t see the difference, here’s a great post from BackYardHive on identifying types of comb. You’ll notice they use different style hives, but the comb is the same. IMG_0188FreeBees also moved up into the deep box we put on last week. IMG_0192See the difference in the color of the bees? Buzzers’ Roost bees are still mainly Italian (offspring of the ill-fated Red Queen), and the FreeBees hive is Saskatraz. We’ll notice a shift in Buzzers’ Roost as the eggs and larvae from the Saskatraz queen emerge and take over.IMG_0193IMG_0192I think we counted about seven and a half frames full of brood in FreeBees. At about 7,000 cells per frame (3,500 a side), that’s a lot of bees! I keep thinking I must have mis-counted, and I didn’t write that figure down (too busy taking pictures and running the timer for the Varroa check).

Part of this week’s inspection was a sugar shake (also called a sugar roll) to check for Varroa. It was much easier this time, partly because we’d done it before, and partly because we used the University of Minnesota’s scooping method to measure out the 1/2 cup of bees (about 300) needed for the sample.

Basically, we measure out the bees, dump them in a jar with a mesh lid, measure in a couple of tablespoons of powdered sugar, roll or shake until they’re covered.IMG_0184After letting them set for several minutes, we shake the sugar onto a paper plate, wet it to make it melt, and count the Varroa.

Now, you’re wondering, “But what about the bees?”

Here’s the answer. IMG_0195-2When the sugar-covered, unhappy bees settle, we dump them back into the hive with an interesting story to tell their sisters. They immediately started fanning, (perhaps to spread the word), which you can see in the video below. (I’ve discovered that I seem to be able to upload videos to WordPress from my iPad, but not my computer of phone. Weird.) If you’re going to do a sugar shake/roll, here’s a pdf, also from the University of Minnesota’s Bee Lab. Please follow their precise directions, and not my description above!

Lastly, we replaced the pollen patty on Buzzers’ Roost and gave one to FreeBees. We’ve noticed Small Hive Beetles come around whenever we feed this way, so if you do it, be sure to put in a beetle trap or two, and check them regularly. The Buzzers’ Roost trap caught several SHB last week, and I took great delight in seeing them do the dead beetle float in the olive oil. IMG_0194-2Despite not finding any Varroa in our sugar shake, I know they are lurking in all that beautiful capped brood, especially in FreeBees. That hive now has enough bees, and we’ll do a Formic Pro treatment as soon as we get a spell of weather cool enough for the process. This week’s temperatures are predicted to be in the 90s, so perhaps the next week will be better.

We’ll also be keeping an eye on Buzzers’ and doing another sugar shake for both hives in early August, treating again as necessary.

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.

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.

IMG_0073

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

IMG_0074

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.

 

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.

Cautiously, Infinitesimally, Almost Imperceptibly Hopeful (for About a Day)

As you read this, please be sure to read the updates to get a true picture of what’s happening in our hive.

If there were a scale called “Chances Our Bees Will Survive the Winter,” it might look like this:

1__________________________________5_____________________________10
Bees will certainly die.                  Bees might not die.                 Bees will certainly live.

Following the Yellow Jacket raid two weeks ago, I would have put our girls at about 1.5.
After this week’s hive inspection, however, I think they’re closer to a 3, perhaps even a 3.5.

They have some brood. It’s spotty, but I think that may be normal with winter approaching. I know the queen slows down on laying eggs this time of year so there are less mouths to feed during winter. And we have baby bees hatching and some larvae. We also spotted the queen, which is always reassuring. IMG_2864
The caps on the cells aren’t as nice as earlier in the season, which was a bit worrying, so we checked for American Foulbrood (AFB) this week. The larvae in the caps we opened weren’t discolored and didn’t “rope out,” so we don’t have to burn all our equipment.

Yes, AFB is that bad. Its spores can live up to 70 years on equipment, and it’s lethal. (Click the link, and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs will tell you all about the disease.)

So, no burning necessary. That’s a relief.

Update: Sassafras Bee Farm very kindly sent me an email with some bad news. Our bees almost certainly have Parasitic Mite Syndrome (PMS). Here’s a link to some information on this syndrome, with lots of pictures that look exactly like our hive.

This week, there’s also been a great deal of wrestling going on in front of the hive, with bees dragging other bees out of the hive and dropping them on the ground, sometimes even flying away with them (to drop them elsewhere, I guess).
At first, we thought the hive was being raided … again, and our bees were protecting the hive — another worry. But our girls weren’t stinging the bees they tossed out.

It reminded me of that scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. You know, “I’m not dead yet!”

If you haven’t seen it, click the link above for the clip.
I’ll wait.

Funny, eh?

I can be a little dense, but eventually I realized what was happening. The worker bees were getting rid of the drones. They didn’t need to sting the evicted bees because drones don’t have a stinger and can’t sting back.

As you may know, drones don’t do much except fly to a Drone Congregation Area (DCA) and hang around, hoping to mate with a queen. (I’ve linked to Honeybee Suite here, partly for the description of DCAs and partly because I liked the comments.) There’s at least one DCA in England that is documented as having been in the same place for centuries.

Here’s a blog post from a guy who went in search of one that was written about in the late 1700s.

He found it too. Pretty amazing, if you ask me!

The mating process breaks a drone in two.
At least they go out with a bang. (Sorry!)

Since drones take up valuable resources with no immediate benefits to their hive, a hive won’t create male bees until it can support them.

But who makes that decision?

Not the queen.  Her job is laying eggs, and she does so according to the size of the cell — fertilized for workers in smaller cells, unfertilized for drones in larger cells.

Not the drones. We’ve established that they’re only good for one thing. (And I’m not, repeat not, drawing conclusions about any other species based on bees!)

So who decides the size of the cells? The worker bees.
And don’t they deserve that privilege? They’re called workers for a reason, and it’s a simple one. They do all the work.

Okay, okay, the queen labors too. Spending your life laying eggs and then being made to swarm or being killed by a usurper is work too. “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,” and all that.

But, I digress.

Back to the workers. Guess what? They also chose when to create queen cells and raise new queens when they deem it time to swarm or replace the old queen.

Talk about the power of the sisterhood!

The boys? Not so much power. If a drone doesn’t mate by the time fall comes around, he’s kicked to the curb. His sisters quit feeding him, making him weak, and all that much easier to wrestle out of his home.

Judging by the state of the wings of some of the drones we saw on the ground, I think the girls may chew the wings of their bros, as well.

Yeah. It’s a rough life for a bee. Workers work themselves to death. Drones mate and die or get kicked from their hive and die. Queens lay eggs their whole life, and then are killed or forced to swarm (and then die later).

So, let’s change the subject and look at some pictures.

IMG_2886The Engineer took this picture of a showdown. I’m pretty sure it’s a worker making sure a drone doesn’t come back in the hive. Drones are usually bigger than worker bees, which isn’t the case here, but their eyes are also much bigger. This is more obvious in the picture below. The blog, Gerry’s Bees, has a nice picture showing the usual differences. Update: Sassafras Bee kindly pointed out that the big-eyed bee is NOT a drone, but a worker with Deformed Wing Virus. IMG_2885
In the seven days since our last inspection, the bees also produced a lot more honey. IMG_2879
It’s so beautiful; I couldn’t stop taking picturesIMG_2881
IMG_2882
IMG_2878
This last picture is of the honey they’ve made on one of the drone foundations we put in last month to try to help with the Varroa infestation. The queen laid a few drones on it, but the next time we checked the hive, our bees were saving nectar in both drone frames. We left them in, and now they are full of honey.

Notice on the bottom of the picture there are bees hanging off one another in sort of a cluster. They frequently do this between frames as we remove the frames to inspect, clinging to each other in a living bee chain until the distance becomes so great they are forced to let go. The phenomenon is called “festooning,” and here’s a great photo of what it looks like (from Honeybee Suite).

The Engineer and I have been working too, learning what we can do to aid our girls in getting through winter. Yesterday, we attended an all-day class on “The Hardest Season.” We came away with a much longer “to-do list” than we went in with.

And now, I’m cautiously, infinitesimally, almost imperceptibly hopeful we can help — or at very least, not hinder — their chances of survival.

On a scale of one to ten, I’d give us a 4, mostly for effort. 🙂

Update: While I’d still give us a 4 for effort, I’m not sure anything we do will save our hive. We may be starting fresh in spring. Feeling down about this, and there’s nothing slight, cautious, or infinitesimal about the emotion.

 

 

 

 

 

Fine, But Not Yet Super-Fine

Our bees are fine, thanks for asking.

I spent Saturday evening  “coloring” the frames of one of our honey supers with beeswax. This is meant to encourage the bees to go into the new box and begin using those frames.FullSizeRender-18

We’re determined to keep a close watch on the pest levels in the hives, so Saturday morning, The Engineer spread Vaseline on a sticky board and put it beneath the hive.

When we did a hive check Sunday,  we counted the Varroa. There were seven. At this point, that count is more a benchmark, but with all those larvae about to be capped, you know the nasty little creatures will be looking for a home. Also, I read that ants can carry off dead Varroa, and we still see the occasional ant crawling on the hive. So, again, our count may be a little skewed.

IMG_1502

Varroa through a magnifying glass on a sticky board. Photo credit: The Engineer

IMG_2298

If you look closely, you can see the larvae in the lower left corner. There’s capped brood above it and capped honey in the upper right corner. 

The bees are still busy drawing comb, raising young, and gathering nectar and pollen, but in the end, we decided the girls were doing fine, but not quite “super-fine” (i.e., ready for a honey super). Though the bottom box is fairly filled in, the top one only has about four full frames. That’s fine too. Judging by the amount of comb the bees are drawing, that they clearly have designs on the remaining frames. And our Basswood trees are beginning to bloom, so we have high hopes for a honey super in our bees’ futures.  Basswood is considered one of the best North American trees for bees, and we have two.

IMG_2299

Look at that gorgeous freshly drawn comb! Aren’t our girls talented?

This week’s visit wasn’t nearly as exhaustive as last week’s. We pulled the Beetle Blaster and Beetle Jail. There were no beetles in either, but one on the single piece of microfiber the girls deigned to allow in the hive. (You’ll recall I mentioned them pulling one all the way down through the two boxes and out the front of the hive, but they also pulled one down and out the bottom.) Another beetle was in the remains of a pollen patty we took out, so we rinsed and replaced the beetle traps.

In an effort to be less obtrusive, we looked at the frames in the upper box, but only peeked into the lower box, so these pictures are all from the upper chamber. If you look below, you’ll see tiny eggs in the center of most the cells. IMG_2296

We didn’t spot the queen, but we didn’t look too hard. The number of eggs and larvae tell us she’s still active. IMG_2297

And though the consumption of sugar-water has slowed, we replaced the feeder with a fresh one and also put in a fresh pollen patty. I read in one of our manuals that we should allow the bees to ignore three feeders of sugar water before we stop feeding it, so we’re using that as a guideline.

There is an ebb and flow in the amount they drink from the feeder and the amount of pollen patty they consume, as well as the amount of pollen we see them bring in. For about a week, we’d see the foragers come back loaded with pollen. Then, at the beginning of last week, they seemed to have very little. Over the weekend, the pollen loads picked up again.

We pay attention to the color of the pollen, but still have no clue where they’re getting it from. Since we live in the country, we may never know. There are still working farms in our area, at least one orchard, and many home gardeners.

It’s neat to think our bees are traveling the countryside, pollinating crops and flowers, as they gather food for the hive.

Oh, and we saw no queen cups in the upper box, so maybe our girls are feeling a bit more secure. 🙂