Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Basics of Splitting Hives - Creating Nucs

Paul Kelly, is an Apiarist that works in the Field Laboratory, at the Department of Environmental Biology, at the University of Guelph, Ontario.

He attended our Beekeeper's meeting this month (Middlesex, Elgin & Oxford Beekeepers' Association) and he talked about some of the studies and surveys carried out over the last two years and gave a demonstration on how to create splits to make up for winter losses.

I did my best to take notes - so I can't guarantee they are completely accurate.
Also, sorry I have no photo of Paul to show from the meeting, but here's a photo of him from the summer when he won the bee beard competition at Clovermead's Apiaries (blog from 19 Feb 2009 - http://thebeejournal.blogspot.com/2009_02_01_archive.html).

My excuse for the lack of photos is that I was too focused on chatting with the beekeepers' and bidding in the Silent Auction to take photos. But I did win this amazing book printed in 1935 and a box of past issues of Bee Culture magazine. SCORE!!! This book is still in print and I have a new copy but it was a real thrill to get an old copy for my bee book collection. (the other photos below are from the book and don't relate to Paul's talk).

In Ontario, it is agreed that hives need to have their fall treatment done in August. Waiting to Sept/Oct is too late and a couple beekeepers who reported losses of 80% had done their treatments after Aug.

Paul mentioned that making up splits is essential to help make up for colony losses.

Note that these notes apply to beekeeping in Ontario. April and May is too early to create splits because the bees have not built up their population yet. The methods to divide a colony vary considerably, depending on the circumstances.

A new colony needs to be a full strong colony by the fall. It can be determined to be a full and strong colony if it has created a surplus of honey.

Splits should be done in late May/June and not after June. Splits that are done earlier will be smaller splits.

There are two kinds of colonies: 1 = Product and 2 = Replacements for Losses.

When dividing a hive and introducing a new queen, use light smoke so as to not scatter the bees.
Find the queen: Remove the second frame from the deep to be divided to create some space. Scan the frames quickly for the queen - looking for differences. Remove another frame and look down in box at the frames - the queen will avoid light and most often she'll be in the box moving to the next frame. Focus only on looking for the queen and nothing else. Once the queen is found, either put her in a queen cage or set the frame aside (Paul recommended resting the queen frame in front of the entrance so that if she falls off the frame she can go back inside the hive.

For the new nucleus hive, pick frames from the strong hive with both brood and bees--2 frames as a minimum. In June 3 to 4 frames are used to create a nuc. You will need to add bees too by shaking bees from some of the other frames because there will not be enough bees on the just the frames alone to keep the cluster warm during the cool nights. Also add an empty frame to the nuc plus 1 or 2 frames of honey and pollen.

Honey supers are put on the 1st of May, otherwise the deep will become overcrowded.
Paul puts a screen over the entrance of the new nuc hive to keep the bees inside the nuc box and he recommends taking it to another bee yard (another location farther than 3 kms) if possible. This would prevent the bees from straying back to their original hive.

One or two days later you can introduce a local queen. He did not recommend letting a weak colony raise it's own queen, stating that a weak colony won't raise a good queen.
If the new nuc is left longer than a week without a new queen introduced, they will create their own queen cells.

On the second day, open the screen from the front to release the bees. They will reorient themselves to their new location.
After introducing the queen, do not disturb the hive for one full week. If you open the hive before one week, the bees might ball and kill the queen.

After one week, when doing an inspection, it's not necessary to look for the queen. Just look for eggs.

A question was asked about letting the bees create their own queen and Paul's comment was that if bees are left to create their own queen, the bees will become mean.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Cryopreservation of Bee Spermatozoa

Megan Taylor, B.Sc.(H), M.Sc from the Apiculture lab at the University of Guelph who has been studying under Dr. Ernesto Guzman has finalized her thesis on the cryopreservation of honey bee spermatozoa. She graciously agreed to share the results of her study with our club.

I took notes from her talk and she kindly edited my notes and I’ve pasted her edited version below. Really the credit belongs to her since she did all the research. Thank you Megan!
The focus of her study was the question: Can bee sperm be successfully preserved long-term?

Ms. Taylor discussed the reasons why research needed to be done on the cryopreservation of bee spermatozoa - to improve the strains, preservation of current stocks, transportation of genetic material, the ability to conduct studies all year and not just in summer, and full mating control.

Mature drones embark on mating flights in the afternoon, and head to their drone congregation areas, aerially located 10-60 meters above ground, where they would wait for a queen on a mating flight. She found drones were more sexually mature from July to mid August at the age of 12 days or older. (Young drones don’t contain any semen, older ones have more. However, later in the season, the sexually mature drones appeared to contain less semen than the sexually mature drones from earlier in the season.)

Generally, by mid afternoon there would only be immature drones in the hive as the mature drones will have flown off to drone congregation areas.
(photo - a few members of the Elgin, Oxford and Middlesex Beekeeper's Assocation).
The queens will mate once they are 5 to 6 days old and she will mate with between 6 to 20 drones. When mating with the queen, after the drone has ejaculated the semen, its mucous may act as a plug inside the queen.

Drones ejaculate a very tiny amount of semen that is highly concentrated with between 8 to 11 million sperm. Drones only ejaculate and therefore mate once during their mating flight, after which they will die. The queen will save about 10% of the sperm from each drone she mates with, holding between 4 to 7 million sperm in her spermatheca. Drones produce between 8 to 11 billion sperm in one micro litre which isn't that much, but compared to other creatures it's one of the, if not the most concentrated of all.

It was noted that bee sperm left just sitting on a shelf for 3 months with no form of treatment still had sperm which could be seen moving under a microscope.

There has not been any recent studies done on honey bee spermatozoa cryopreservation since 1984 (Kaftanoglu and Peng, 1984).

Previous experiments with liquid nitrogen (-196 degrees Celsius) discovered that there was some damage to the membrane of the sperm and their tails would split (Peng et al., 1992).

In Ms. Taylor’s experiment, diluents were used containing amino acid, antibiotics and glucose for energy, and different cryoprotectants to improve the storage of the sperm. She pooled semen from multiple drones and added different amounts to test collection ratio. She experimented with 7 diluent solutions, 3 different cryoprotectants and 5 collection ratios.

Cryoprotectants and diluents did reduce cellular damage and improved the post thaw viability of sperm. A similar freezing protocol used for the cryopreservation of swine sperm was used for the bees and this was very successful. The sperm did survive the cryopreservation. The results of the cryopreservation were greater than 60% viability.

The next step was to fertilize queens with the sperm. This process proved to be very difficult and not all the queens survived (acceptance when reintroduced in the hive seemed to be an issue - and there was speculation whether the workers knew the queen was not in a good condition or was damaged in some way).

Ms. Taylor was able to successfully instrumentally inseminate one queen with cryopreserved semen and found that the sperm had migrated to the queen’s spermatheca and were even still motile when observed under the microscope. The results are very promising and further study will need to be carried out.

Ms. Taylor’s results will be published this spring in the scientific journal called “Theriogenology”.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Bee Books I've Read

As part of my research for the children's book about honey bees that I'm writing/illustrating I've been doing all kinds of research in an attempt to become as knowedgeable about bees as I can ...well bee...

The internet has proven to be a treasure trove of information and photographs and I'm grateful to each and every person who took the time from their busy life to post their expereinces, information, research, photos, funnies, stories and comments about bees and beekeeping.

I've also read a selection of books which I've done reviews for on amazon.com which I thought I'd mention here:

  • Beekeeping for Dummies

  • The ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture

  • Natural Beekeeping

  • Hive Management

  • DVD - Bees - Tales from the Hive

If you're completely new to beekeeping I would recommend Beekeeping for Dummies. I found this book interesting and easy to read. The author doesn't assume you understand all the bee related terminology and explains the terms well. He takes you through from the very beginning step by step.

Natural beekeeping is a very interesting and informative read as well. The information on this topic (and all books for that matter) is changing fairly rapidly as more and more studies and tests are done, but this book will bring you up to date on natural beekeeping techniques.

There is a presentation in the spring 2009 in Niagara Falls NY and I believe the main speaker is someone who is doing natural beekeeping--I'll post more info on this when I get it. The problem with the treated hives, among many things, is that the mites grow resistant to the treatment. The argument is also that the bees can't very well develop their own mite resistant genetics if we keep stepping in with treatments. If you're involved in beekeeping even a little you'll be familiar with this argument that goes round and round.

I try to stay open so I can hear from all sides. One thing this has shown me is that beekeeper's are certainly passionate about the topic of bees.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Munro Honey in Alvinston, Ontario

If you like white wine or light tasting drinks then you must try Mead. I had never had it before although I had heard of it spoken of as a popular drink from the Middle Ages.

Mead is made with honey and water and yeast that is then fermented.

History tells us mead is probably the oldest alcoholic drink known to mankind and there are many mentions of it in the historic writings.

See a brief history of mead on Wikepedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mead#History).

It is believed that the word 'honeymoon' came from the tradition to supply a newly married couple with enough mead for a month, ensuring happiness and fertility for a full cycle of the moon, hence the creation of the word honeymoon.

Munro Honey in Alvinston makes an award winning mead and if you've never tried mead, I suggest trying their blue label "Mead" or my personal favourite, the green label "Sweet Mead".

Munro Honey http://www.munrohoney.com/ is a large scale commercial beekeeping operation.

Last summer I drove out to Alvinston, Ontario to pick up my supplies and had a brief tour of their brand new facility--sorry I didn't have a camera with me at the time. I was really impressed with all the large stainless steel vats for the mead making.

In the store they offered samples of the wine (no they didn't card me to make sure I was old enough to drink alcohol--those days are long since past). Of course they sell honey (raw, creamed, flavoured--just about all the ways you can package it) and they have a really quaint gift shop with bee and honey related items.

I found some great primary books there on bees - Honey in the Hive (http://www.amazon.ca/Honey-Hive-Anne-F-Rockwell/dp/0060285672/ref=cm_cr-mr-img).

Munro Honey run around 2,000 hives and they supply many of the grocery stores in the surrounding cities with honey and honey comb.

My nephew Codie, had never tried honeycomb before so I made sure to buy some for him to try. He's addicted now and every time he comes over he looks through the kitchen until he finds it.

I bought my original hive boxes and supplies from Munro Honey last year and now that I've decided to give up procrastinating on finishing preparing my hives, I placed an order for my wax covered plastic foundation.

I'm moving forward, and here's the box of supplies just delivered.

The off-white sheets are wax coated plastic (permadent) which will slide into the frames for my honey supers.

The honey super is the box that goes on top and it's just for honey only.

This is where the extra honey will go and it's for the beekeeper's use. Beekeeper's only takes the extra honey from the bees that they don't need.

Both plastic foundations have a light coating of wax on them which smells great. It will encourage the bees to use this pre-molded foundation to build their honeycomb.

The surface of each sheet is pre-pressed with a honeycomb pattern which the bees will use as a guide when making their comb.

The larger black permadent is for the medium sized deeps where the bees will live and raise their brood. The medium deep is the box that sits on the bottom (that is if you're picturing the traditional beehive with two boxes, one on top of the other). Bees will store some honey and pollen on these black frames for their own personal use as well as using most of the cells to raise their brood.

Bees have special wax producing glands on their abdomen. These glands will secrete the liquid wax into little pockets on the bee's underside. The wax then cools and turns white.

The bees then remove these little scales of wax with their feet, chew it into a soft mash with their mandibles and shape it into perfect honeycombs... easy eh!!

(I can't even DRAW honeycomb accurately let alone make it yet this insect does it with no schooling, no drafting paper, rulers or anything!!!)

This new permadent foundation is black. I haven't seen black before in all my web reading. I think I may have seen a couple photos of frames with black foundation. I expect the advantage with black is that you can more easily see the tiny little white eggs at the bottom of the cells. That makes sense since white plastic has been used for years and when the combs are new the white really shows through making the white eggs very hard to see.

I'm thinking I might keep a couple of my honey frames with no foundation and put in a vertical dowel so that I can have honeycomb to eat.
When the plastic foundation is used, the honeycomb built on it is left intact to be reused by the bees to fill up with honey again. The foundation makes the combs stronger and more stable for handling.
To create honey comb, the bees are usually just given an outside frame that they can build comb inside. The honey and wax from honeycomb is delicious and even the wax can be eaten.

Each evening throughout March I'm determined to move forward by preparing for my bees in spring.
I have my hammer, wood glue and nails in the living room and I'm all set. So while it's snowing or raining in the evenings, I'll flip on the TV and work on nailing my frames together.

Ten frames go in the medium deep on the bottom and usually the honey super box on top has about 9 frames.
A healthy hive of bees can produce as much as 100 lbs of honey in a season. They also make the honey comb so when the beekeeper slices off the wax caps to release the honey, that wax is saved. It can be used to make all kinds of products from candles to furniture polish. Nothing gets wasted.

The more I think about bees and how special and important they are the more I can't wait to start.
I just got to keep thinking positive.