Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Three and Half Inspections This Afternoon

I went out a day earlier than usual and inspected three hives today: Plan Bee..., Lib-BEE-taria, and the Nuc To Be Named Later.

To be honest, I didn't really do much an inspection the nuc (The Nuc To Be Named Later). All I did was move the division board in the hive and put in a feeder filled with sugar syrup. I'd done a full inspection two days ago and didn't want to disturb anymore this week.

I've been a bit concerned about Plan Bee... This is the hive that swarmed twice, and, while it had a goodly number of bees, in my last inspection, I saw no evidence of a laying queen. Well today, I finally saw her and some newly laid eggs. The hive seems behind in collection of nectar, however, so I will watch the hive closely in the next few weeks.

Lib-BEE-taria, the langstroth hive filled with carniolans, is still as feisty as ever. I don't get stung but the bees do try to "head butt" me. This hive is very productive; the upper and second boxes are pretty heavy with honey. While I did not see the queen herself, I did see some eggs in the upper box, so she seems to be doing fine. I closed up the hive and reduced its entrance.

I really had to be quick today and not leave any honey comb exposed. All the bees in Beelandia were in a robbing mood. After I left the yard, everything looked pretty chaotic. All because I forgot to "hide" a frame with only the slightest bit of capped honey in it.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Queen Mated and Laying

I did an inspection of the 5 frame nuc that I put Gary Reuter's queen cell in. The queen is beautiful, and is laying eggs. Do I use her to requeen a hive this fall or do I try to overwinter her in the nuc a la Kirk Webster?

Photos of Bee Foraging

Here is a photo I took of one of my bees foraging on ornamental allium.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Mid-July Inspection

Yesterday, I spent the afternoon inspecting the mating nucs, and all but one hive in Beelandia. We've had unseasonably cool weather the last week or so, though the bees seem to be working hard. I've caught them foraging some allium in our yard, and the wild grade blossoms growing all over the old storefront down the block.

I first checked the double mating nuc I set up this month. The one side of this nuc seems to be queenless and slowly being abandoned. However, the other side in which I placed Gary Reuter's queen cell is doing fine: plenty of bees and a nice large queen!

Plan Bee..., the top bar containing carniolans, seems to be getting stronger since it swarmed a few weeks ago, though I do not yet see any sign of a laying queen. I will watch this hive carefully, and will possibly requeen the hive with the eventually mated queen from the nuc.

Metpropolis, the other top bar hive inhabited by Minnesota Hygienic bees, is thriving. I cut some drone comb out of one bar, closed it up, and went on to inspect Lib-BEE-taria.

Lib-BEE-taria is thriving as well. While I did not see the queen in this hive, I did see plenty of evidence that she is busy laying eggs, even in the top box of the three box hive. I pulled a green drone frame from this hive for mite control.

Before I did any of these inspections, I did check the mite count through an examination of a 24 hour sticky board test. Lib-Bee-taria had no mites to be seen, Bee Glad... had three.

No stings to report!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Busy Two Days

Beelandia has been a busy place the last two days. The bees, of course, are truly active right now, and I spent some time inspecting them.

Yesterday I had an opportunity to look in on the nuc I set up last week when I took a queen cell from Plan Bee... I was surprise at their activity and did get a glimpse of the virgin queen scurrying on one of the frames. All goes well here!

I went next into Plan Bee.. to get a sense of how well they are doing since they swarmed. I could not find a queen, and they seemed rather testy. I closed up the hive and made a note to watch them closely over the next few days. There was still one capped queen cell, so they might be waiting like I am.

I went next to Lib-BEE-taria, the langstroth having carniolan bees. They are storing much honey in the top deep, but are not yet interested in the shallow super above. These bees were also a bit testy, though I did receive a sting.

This morning I went to B & B Honey Farm to buy some equipment. I am like a Boy Scout when it comes to preparation. I bought another deep box, two frame feeders (for the double nuc), and they were nice enough to give me a few used queen cages for free. While none of this equipment is needed immediately, I do not want to be caught without it.

This afternoon I inspected Metpropolis, the top bar hive filled with Italian bees. These honey bees were much calmer than the carniolans I inspected the day before. They are also extremely productive. I harvested one bar of capped honey. I also had a slight accident with a fragile comb filled with capped worker brood. Luckily the queen was not on this comb and the bees didn't get too upset. Anyway, Metpropolis is booming! It seems to have a good laying queen and productive workers.

I am happy to report only one sting during this two day inspection.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Last Day of Queen Rearing Course

I finished up the queen rearing class at the University of Minnesota this morning. Our primary activity was taking our grafted cell bars out of the swarm boxes to see whether the bees started any queen cells. Of my eight grafts, only two were being cultivated into queens. One unlucky group's swarm box had included a virgin queen, so none of their grafts took. (There is a lesson there, there could be two queens in any hive so be careful when you shake bees into your swarm box!) After examining the bars, they were all placed in prepared hives for "finishing". These queens will be used in Marla Spivak's classes to teach the techniques of artificial insemination.

We all left with a pleasant surprise. Gary Reuter gave each of us a ripe queen cell grafted from a strong survivor hive. We actually packaged the cells in the nalgene bottles we were given the day before. When I got home I placed my cell in a 5 frame nuc created from frames and bees taken from Bee Glad... We will see if a mated queen will result from this. This allows me to experiment with wintering a double nuc.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

First Two Days of Queen Rearing Course

Thursday night, Monta and I were off to St. Paul so that I could take the queen rearing course taught by Marla Spivak and Gary Reuter at the University of Minnesota. (While I took the course, Monta wandered about St. Paul and also did art.)

The first morning of the first day of class was spent discussing bee biology and stock selection. Some of the highlights of this morning included our discussion of the importance of drone colonies in the queen mating equation, and the importance of creating a queen system that allows the bees to do what they are "hardwired" to do. Dr. Spivak also explained why she and Reuter will no longer maintain the Minnesota Hygienic line of bees. If I understood her correctly, her intention was never to create a hygienic super bee that all beekeepers would eventually use, but to develop a method of selecting and developing hygienic bees that all queen rearers could use on whatever type of bee they manage. Developing a dominant line of bees would be self-defeating in the long run, destroying what's left of the genetic diversity in the American bee population. The selection of hygienic behavior can and should be used on all lines of bees.

Dr. Spivak spent a good deal of time warning us about using chemicals in the hive to treat diseases and pests, although many of the no chemical purists would probably be disappointed with her not saying NEVER! As a top bar beekeeper, I appreciated her discussion on the taintededness of foundation. A three-year cycle of comb use was suggested.

Next, Gary Reuter described the types of equipment that they use to raise queens through their system. I never got the feeling that Spivak and Reuter were presenting their way as the only way or the right way. They recognized that we would adapt their methods to our own needs and locality.

Saturday was our time to get our hands dirty! After a short review of Friday's information, we got to actually work with the equipment, and do labs. Our morning was spent doing "beeless" run-throughs of the various steps of their system. We manipulated beeless finishing colonies, set up beeless swarm boxes, and learned to graft larvae into queen cups. In the afternoon, we actually did all of the above on the "real" colonies at the University. Class members grafted larvae into six queen cups, and placed them into a swarm hive we students also set up. We also learned how to test for nosema, and varroa. We watched a demonstration on the use liquid nitrogen to test for hygienic behavior.. We left the second day with a Chinese grafting tool, and a nalgene bottle.

The course ends tomorrow morning. Students will be able to exmine how well their grafts took in the swarm box. I will report my grade Monday.

Belated Report: Slippery Reverse

Monta and I have been traveling (more on this later) so I didn't have time to place my last report online till this moment. Thursday afternoon I did an inspection of the four hives and nuc located in Beelandia.

Plan Bee..., the top bar hive filled with carniolans which swarmed over the last week, was the first to inspect. There are still a "load" of bees in this hive and some capped brood, including queen cells. I carefully cut out all but one cell (I hope) and left the bees pretty much alone. They still have bars in the hive which they haven't touched, so it looks like they have plenty of room. I also unplugged one of the back entrances to improve ventilation.

I next inspected the small nuc in which I placed the small swarm I caught last week. There was no queen in the hive to be found. The bees are consuming the honey in the frame I placed in the nuc and the frame of capped brood has all hatched. To be on the safe side I placed one of the queen cells I cut out of Plan Bee... into this hive with another frame of capped brood. We will see how this takes.

Lib-BEE-taria, the langstroth having carniolans, needed to be reversed and all went pretty well. They had comb drawn on 80 percent of the frames so I just reversed the three boxes with little or no problem.

I cannot say the same for Bee Glad..., the langstroth containing Minnesota Hygienics. I was trying out new gloves. (This was the first time I've ever manipulated a hive in gloves!) For some reason, I kept getting them caught between frames. I found out as well that they become slippery with the accumulation of hive products. Well, to make a long "excuse" short, I dropped to frames during my hive manipulations, resulting in a rather angry bee population. Not good, though no stings! I was able to reverse this hive as well, even with aggressive bees.

Metpropolis, the top bar hive with Minnesota Hygienics, was fine. I added some bars between the honey storage area and the brood area and culled some drone comb. Everything is thriving in Metpropolis.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Video: Afterswarm

Here is a video of an afterswarm that issued from Plan Bee... No, I did not catch it.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Honey Supers Added

In all the excitement surrounding the swarm, I forgot to report that I added honey supers to both langstroth hives (i.e. Lib-BEE-taria and Bee Glad...)

Friday, July 3, 2009

Lessons Learned

Yesterday's adventure with the swarm reminded of things I should already be aware of. The chief lesson: All the recommendations and "rules" of beekeeping are based on probabilities, not guarantees. The interaction between the bio-physical realm and human social constructions (e.g. apicultural techniques) is very complex, impacted by many factors, some of which we are only beginning to understand. The bottom line in all this is that I can't (and maybe shouldn't) control honeybees completely. But my experiences yesterday have taught me some specific lessons:
  1. "First season " honeybees may swarm. It may not be likely but they can!
  2. Carniolans are more likely to swarm than my Italian bees, even when I take the same precautions. I need to be more diligent.
  3. Looking for swarm cells in a top bar hive is a little different than in a langstroth.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

And Monta and I Wondered Where the Swarm Went...

The Astro-Padre game today was delayed on account of swarming bees...


As Monta and I were eating a rather late leisurely breakfast, we heard our son, Eli, colorfully exclaim that thousands of  honey bees were flying about our backyard beyond Beelandia. The two of us, with our daughter, Eme, ran out to join Eli, and discovered that what Eli was observing was  a swarm of bees leaving one of our hives and taking a rest stop in a thornless honey locust tree in a neighbor's yard. 
Eme, Monta and I took immediate action. Eme and I put together a bait hive in an unused deep and the three of us ran off to the neighbor's house to ask for permission to leave the bait hive there. The neighbor was calm and cool about the whole situation. She had heard about the decline in the bee population and was only too happy to allow us to catch the swarm. (It was just too high in the tree to cut down.) 
Monta and Eme kept watch on the swarm while I checked Beelandia. The swarm seemed to have issued from Plan Bee..., the top bar hive filled with carniolans. When I got to Beelandia, this hive was still very active with two afterswarms here and there on the plants. By the time I assessed the situation with the hives, however, the initial swarm flew off and not into the bait box we left. Monta ran about the neighborhood  trying to discover where the swarm might've gone to but could not find it.
We were philosophical about the loss of the swarm, figuring we gave something back to "nature". I did place one of the afterswarms in a double nuc box, along with some brood, drawn comb, and honey from the other carniolan colony. We will see what happens with this nuc.