Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Beat It Lady!!!

That's pretty much the message I got today when I went out to check the hives. It was hot, in the mid 80s this afternoon, no wind, sunny and humid. I got out to the bee hives and there was quite a bit of activity around the front of the hives, with lots of traffic coming and going through the entrance. It was by far the most activity I've seen thus far. During my last visit to the hives I noted that the top hive box (there are two, one stacked on top of the other) had most of the frames built out with comb and there was lots of nectar filling many of the cells. I definitely saw larvae in both hives but not many capped cells. I tried doing a video with my phone camera but it did not turn out very well. I'll try again in a few days. It's too hard trying to hold the camera still and with the subject framed in the view window, and hold the frame in the other hand. I finally gave up. The main purpose of opening the hive the other day was to put some small pint-jar feeders of sugar syrup on top of the inner covers because it had been cool and rainy and I was worried there might not be much pollen and nectar in the vicinity. I made up a batch of syrup and filled two jars. I used a sharp screwdriver to punch a small hole in each lid and inverted the jar. Sure enough, after a couple of drips, each jar held a vacuum and no more syrup leaked out. Once I got out to the hive I put an empty (frameless) hive box on top of the inner cover and set the inverted pint jar over the hole in the center of the cover. I then put the outer cover on top of the frameless box. I figured the bees would use the syrup if they needed it, and I sort of expected the jars to be empty when I went back to check them today.

Today when I went out there, my plan was to remove the outer cover, refill the jars if they were empty, take off the inner cover, try to locate the queen in each hive, look for larvae, look for new eggs, and look for any signs of mites or other pests. When I closed up the hives I planned to add a third hive box with frames so the bees would have an additional level to keep building comb for the queen. I took two boxes out there with me, and in each of them I had removed a regular frame and added a green plastic drone comb frame. Drone larvae are bigger and require an additional couple of days to fully develop and hatch. For whatever reason, the varroa mite prefers to lay its eggs in drone comb and take advantage of the longer larval development time. One of the non-chemical suggestions for controlling this damaging pest is to put frames in the hive that are designed for drone comb, and the bees will fill it up with drone larvae, and the varroa mites will put the majority of their eggs in there. If you pull the drone frames out of the hives and replace them with fresh ones just before the drones would have hatched out, you have essentially removed much of the varroa population. Most people either scrape the comb off the frame or they put them in the freezer which kills the drones and the varroa larvae, and then they put the frames back in the hives and the workers clean out and discard the now-dead contents of the cells. Sounds gross but it is a pretty effective way to control the population of this particular pest.

Anyway, I got out to the hives and took off the outer cover of Hive #1. The pint jar was missing only about a third of the syrup so they must be finding plenty of flowers to forage on. I set the jar on the platform and took off the inner cover. I puffed a little smoke over the frames and drove the bees down in between them, and lifted one of the center frames with my hive tool. There was a lot of capped comb, which contain larvae in various stages of development, and also newly laid eggs in the bottom of many cells, which are so tiny you can barely see them. That is a good indicator that the queen is alive and doing her job. There were also areas with larvae that had not been capped yet, and also areas on the frames containing nectar (soon to be honey) and pollen of a very dark yellow color, indicating dandelions are being foraged on by the bees. As far as I can tell Hive #1 looks great. One thing I've noticed every time I've gone out there is that Hive #1 seems to have a lot more activity coming and going through the entrance. Not sure why this is, but the inside of the hives look basically the same and I can't tell that one hive is ahead of the other in terms of larvae, pollen and nectar.

Once I'd examined and seen what I wanted to see in the hives, I set the new box of frames with the one frame of drone comb on top of the other two hive boxes. I then put the inner cover on, and set the pint jar back in place so they'd have a reserve of food if it rains the next several days, as the forecast is warning. I then put the empty box on the inner cover, which basically works as a spacer for the pint jar feeder, and lastly the outer cover. I gathered all of my tools, closed the gate, and let the smoker fuel burn out and emptied the ash on the ground, loaded everything back into the Jeep and headed back to the house.

I will leave them alone for a week or so and then check them again to see how much comb they have built in that third box. If it looks like a lot, I will take the hive apart and arrange the three brood boxes with the fullest one on the bottom, and the one with the most empty frames on top. I'll remove the pint jar, add the queen excluder (which is a grid that the queen can't fit through but the workers can), and then a honey super (the 10 frame box that the bees use to store their surplus honey). Since the queen can't fit through the excluder, no eggs can be laid in the honey supers, and as each one fills, you keep adding another one until late summer. At that point you determine how much stored honey the bees will need to get through the winter, and you basically steal the rest. We're a long way from that point but based on the way things look thus far, most of the comb should be built by the end of the month, and the rest of the summer should be a whole lot of honey storing and rearing of baby bees. I'll need to keep an eye on things in the bottom part of the hive so that things don't get too crowded, which causes swarming behavior, and sets the hive back because half the population leaves, and you have to replace the queen immediately or you lose a whole 21-day brood cycle. Mature hives are the most prone to swarming and since these are first-year hives, I don't expect to have to deal with this issue, unless things get really hot sooner than normal, and there's an above average amount of blooming things and the bees get ahead of me. I bought plenty of extra equipment in case I need to split a hive to prevent it from swarming, so that's my emergency plan if things look like they are headed that way. I'll set up a third hive and order a new queen, and move the old queen and half of the brood and half of the bees into the new hive, and put the new queen in the old hive. Hopefully that won't be necessary until next year...

Here's a picture I took last week, right after the queen was released into the hive. Since I had only nine frames in each hive because the queen cage was wedged in there, there was extra space and a big gap between a couple of the frames. Since bees don't like big open spaces, they attempt to fill them with comb. I had to scrape this off and remove it before I could fit the tenth frame in the box. Kind of creepy looking. I saved it to show Greg. It smelled like honey.

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