Monday, August 31, 2009

Off with their Heads!!!

I'll never forget the way Mom would read Alice in Wonderland when I was a child.

She'd always bellow the part where the queen yells, "Off with their heads!" And so Dad, Mom (the newest beekeeper in the family) and I went to the bee yard on Monday afternoon to do inspections on both hives.

Last Thursday I found my beautiful queen dead in front of her hive, surrounded by her court. She appeared to have a sting on her back.
Just who did it that or why will always remain a mystery.
Possibly she flew into the wrong hive on her way home from mating, or possibly her own hive killed her.
But somehow I don't think it was the latter, especially from the way they were gathered around her on the ground. They were positioned more like ladies in waiting than killers.

We started the inspection on Hive #2.
We only looked at one frame in the top purple honey super - that box is full of capped honey and ready to be taken off.
The next yellow honey super has frames but the bees did not get the comb drawn.
I suspect this was mostly due to the requeening and also the bad weather conditions which made nectar flows vary.
No complaints though because I did not expect honey in my first year.

We found the queen on the fourth frame. This was a real surprise for Hive #2. I was anticipating that both hives would show up queenless because of the lowering numbers and activity on the porch, lack of brood, etc. But there she was, alive and well.

I didn't see brood but after seeing the queen on frame four I closed up the hive to leave them alone. Time enough for an inspection for brood next week.

Mom was the paparazzi for this visit and she apologizes to you that her photos aren't the best. Mom normally prides herself on great photographs so this was a disappointment for her. But her experience was the same as mine when first working the bees, I would put my camera too close and the photos would be blurred. It's all part of the fun.
See the queen at the top of photo at left.

We were really encouraged after seeing that queen. That hive was more active than Hive #1 so I kept my enthusiasm tempered. I was prepared for the worst on this visit and Hive #1 had 'pathetic' activity out front. Zero to two bees on the porch at a time. I didn't think there would be a queen in that hive.

There wasn't. At least not that we could see. We checked the bottom deep and pulled about four frames from the centre of the hive. I didn't see eggs or young brood but we did find a small patch of brood about 3 or 4 days old. This would work time wise if the beautiful queen had laid eggs 5 days ago.

On the 5th frame we found the supercedure cells. About six of them, capped queens waiting to emerge.

But I'd had enough of waiting. Waiting for queens to hatch, waiting for good weather so she can get out to mate--when we can't even get 2 days of sunshine in a row--waiting for her to return and finally lay eggs. Then waiting for the eggs to hatch. It's very late in the season now and these delays have put the hive in jeopardy. The numbers have declined and it's touch and go now whether the hive could survive the winter, even with a laying queen. The predictions at this point is that the hive won't survive the winter and probably isn't worth investing more in.
I have invested too much of my emotional energy and cash to quit at this point when I think one last investment could make the difference. At least I felt it was worth a try.
On the upside, the Varroa Mite count has dropped totally down - 3 mites dropped in 4 days on Hive 1 and 2 mites on Hive 2. That's because there's no brood for them to feed off of!!!! I talked to my friend Henry and he agrees with me that because mite counts are now down enough that I could probably forego the Formic Acid treatment in Sept.

The Formic Acid was a concern because it would be strong enough to penetrate the capped brood cells in order to kill mites and it would kill a lot of brood in the process.... just when I'm trying to get a queen settled and building up numbers. With the mite numbers down this dilemma is nicely solved.

So the last ditch investment and solution is to purchase a queen for the girls. She'll be a mated and marked queen and hopefully a kick-ass egg layer with super strong pheromones. Even as I write this she's sitting in the mail waiting to be couriered to me tomorrow morning.
Tomorrow we'll cut out all the supercedure cells--unfortunately having to remove many frames when we were just in there on Monday but I want them out. If there happens to be another queen in that hive that I don't know about then they'll have to fight it out and we'll hope that the best queen will live.

If I miss a queen cell then it'll be up to the victor to deal with the cell. It's my last best effort to help them.
I hope this isn't going to be a lesson in learning when to draw the line and let them go. I was hoping I wouldn't be facing that issue until later in my beekeeping career.
So I have my hive tool out to cut off their heads. No, I don't think it's funny. More like one of my favourite quotes from Ripley in the movie Aliens: "I'm finding a lot of things funny lately, but I don't think they are."

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Bee Beard Competition at Clovermead Apiary

The air was literally a-buzz with bees and excitement.

The day of the bee Olympics held annually at Clovermead Apiary had finally come.

(How's that for girl power? Melanie wins the bee beard competition!!!)

Originally scheduled for July, the weather was so wet with rain this year that it was rescheduled to the end of August.

Even then the forecast threatened rain but it seemed the good wishes and prayers of everyone were answered and the sun came out and stayed the whole time.
Most of my family attended along with me which was really nice. They may not share my obsession every day but they've been patient to listen to me go on and on and on about bees.
I volunteered that day answering bee related questions in the Train Station building which is where the 24 frame observation hive was housed.
Thousands of bees were on display and could be seen coming and going through large clear pvc piping at the back of the hive.
They also had a regular hive set up inside with a tube going to the outside. This hive had a plexi-glass top and cutouts on the sides with plexi-glass inserted so that observers could see what a real Langstroth hive set up looks like.
The entire room is set up with antique beekeeping equipment and posters about the life cycle of bees.
This to accommodate it's visitors and bus loads of children that come to visit the apiary during the school year.
Clovermead is set up with education in mind and also some fun things for the kids. There's a few animals in pens, chickens, turkeys, rabbits, a pig and some goats. The goats have a high walkway which they climb with enthusiasm.
The reason is because there's a little pail at the bottom on a pulley and for .25 cents, kids can get a handful of corn from a gumball machine which they can put in the pail and then send it up to the top of the bridge to the goat.
The goats are certainly not afraid of heights!
It was fun to watch. They also have tractor rides and go-carts.

The Olympics involved a Hive Tool Toss, Fastest Smoker Lighter, Quickest to put on a Bee Suit, The most Honey Hand Squeezed from Comb and finally the Best Bee Beard.

Last year, I participated in the comb squeezing and placed second. This year I opted to work around the crowd between events, letting children try on the beekeeper veil and hat.

The last competition of the day was the bee beard. The bee beard wearers and their "groomers" were enclosed inside screened in areas along with a hive of bees.
The groomers were given 20 minutes in which they shook frames of bees into newspaper which they then poured onto their waiting wearers.

The wearers had queen cages tied with fishing line hung under their chins. Her pheromones would do the job to keep the bees close to her.
The wearers would cup their arms to hold the bees in place when they were poured.
Spectators could walk safely and comfortably around all four sides of each enclosure to watch the whole process.
The competitors were weighed before the beard and again after in order to determine how many bees they were wearing.
The beards took on many shapes, some long and flat and others bumpy. One beard looked like a Pharaoh's goatee (in the shape of the queen cage hanging under the chin).
The winner was Melanie (who works for the Ontario Bee Association) and second place went to Dan, a local beekeeper.
Each competitor walked a straw bale platform to music to show off their beards to the crowd.
Melanie got the trophy and Dan got second place as the audience pick but that was mostly for the way he danced down the bale platform.
Melanie said she got a few stings and seeing their faces afterward they were none the worse for wear.
It was a fun afternoon and we made sure to finish up in the gift shop where we could buy all kinds of bee products and gifts.
Maybe one year I can wear the beard....

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Highs, the Lows & the I Don't Know What to Do

I am so stuck. I just don't know what the heck to do. Well I mean I can think of what to do but I just need a few minutes here to try to figure things out--

To settle my mind and think...

I went to the bee yard today to switch 2 honey supers, putting a full one on top of an empty one with frames that need drawn comb.
The bees hadn't been drawing the comb so the shift is in hopes that the bees will notice the super.
I got this done in less than a minute and with minimal smoke (Hive #2).
But before I got to that point as I approached the hives I noticed low activity again on both hives.

It was 6:00 in the evening and a little overcast but it wasn't raining. The rain is scheduled for tomorrow.

It just didn't seem right to me again mostly because there weren't even many bees hanging out on the stoop, nor were there many bees hanging out just inside the hive - you know, the bees you can see on the bottom board if you lean down and look inside.
But worst of all, I saw a ball of bees on the ground. A small ball, and sticking out from the cluster was a golden body. A beautiful golden body with a long abdomen.
The queen. And she was dead.

I brushed the bees away from her and picked her up.

I was hoping against hope this might be another queen that hatched and was defeated by the lovely queen.

There's just no way to know for sure.

Unfortunately she looks a lot like the queen in the photos taken the other day.

What now? I think it's time to call in some professional help to have a look see.
I need experienced eyes to look and tell me what they see.

It may be time as well to buy a queen.

I noticed "white stuff" sticking out her rear end as well as part of her stinger.
I don't know if the white stuff is parts of drones after mating or her own organs.

It's all a big mystery. Talk about The Secret Life of Bees.

Here are the photos, for my records, but I certainly did not enjoy this photo op. She does have a small dent mark on her back.
I looked under the microscope and it doesn't look like it punctured her flesh, but it would be the right size for a sting mark.
It is very possible this is a smaller queen that lost a battle. I guess time will certainly tell.

And look at the front porch on my hives in the photo - looks way to quiet to me for early evening.

I didn't realize there would be so many ups and downs in beekeeping, at least so close together. I confess that today I'm not happy to be a beekeeper. (Don't worry, I'm not one to give up easily).

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Q&A - Phone Call with an Expert

My beekeeping friend and mentor, Henry Heimstra, called. He wanted an update on how the bees were doing. He came to the bee yard at the end of July to see the bees and gave them a glowing report (I was SO proud of them!).

At that time the bees were creating supercedure cells and so we let the bees make themselves new queens - and that has happened.

I was glad to have Henry on the phone and quickly pulled out my question list (he might not know I keep a question list but I do :)

Q - Should there be brood at this time of year? A - Yes. The queen should be laying still to build up numbers for overwintering.

Q - Is it a problem that the bees seem to have put nectar into almost every available cell? (I think this is preventing the queen from laying). A - The bees will move the nectar.

Now, that answer certainly caused me to have a DUH! moment. Of course the bees would move the nectar. They're smart. They would know that 200 cells half filled isn't as good as 100 cells totally filled and then capped! I'm glad the bees are in charge here and not me!

Q - When can honey supers be extracted? A - Anytime. In Southwestern Ontario the nectar flows are finished by the second week of September (when the Western Fair is on in London).

Q - Is observing bees coming and going with purpose, doing orienting flights usually a sign that a queen is present? A - Yes.

Q - Is it a problem that the bees haven't collected much pollen? A - If there's lots of nectar available they will focus mostly on gathering that.

Henry commented that if very small lumps of pollen are being brought in it's often a sign of queenlessness. I was glad to see large lumps of pollen being brought into Hive 2 on Monday - that was the hive where I haven't seen the queen but it's now very active.

I told him I put the undrawn frames in the yellow super underneath the purple super which is full of honey and he confirmed that was a good move. Tomorrow I'll head out to the yard and switch them on Hive 2 as well.

And now for a commercial and an invite for all of you to come to Aylmer, Ontario on Sat 29 August 2009, for the Bee Olympics. It's held at the Heimstra's apiary called Clovermead (started by Henry back in the 70's). I attended last year and got some great photos of our beekeeping instructors wearing beards of bees. You can see photos from last year's competition on my Bee Beard blog. I'll be volunteering there this year answering any bee related questions that people might ask in the observation hive room. They have the largest observation hive in Canada - I think it must be about 30 frames - an entire wall. I'll blog on that of course so stay tuned :)

Monday, August 24, 2009

(Hive 1) The Queen is Dead! Long Live the Queen!

It was not looking very good. At least as far as brood and eggs or the queen were concerned. I checked the honey super first, pulling only one frame. All the frames are just full of honey, every cell covered in lovely white caps. Makes you want to lick your lips in anticipation.

I didn't expect to get a honey crop this year but it appears I'll get one medium box of honey from each hive this year.

Then we looked at the pink medium which I'm using as a brood box. Our goal for this inspection was to find open brood or the queen herself--evidence that the hive was thriving and going to be okay since they had built supercedure cells and had made a new queen.

I pulled the second frame - all capped honey. I pulled a middle frame - all capped honey. There were certainly bees but no sign of capped or uncapped brood.

This meant we'd have to invade the deep. Dad was with me for this inspection. He was my muscles to heft the heavy supers. Each frame of capped honey would weigh about 4 lbs and there were ten frames per box so that was 40 lbs to heft. My right arm which I broke in April has mostly healed but I still don't have full strength in that arm so I don't trust it--not with a box full of bees.

I pulled the third frame on the deep and checked it - capped honey in the top edges and what looked like nectar shining in most of the central cells - no brood that I could see (wearing reading glasses). Then I checked the central frame, the same story. No queen was spotted. Then I checked the second last frame--that's when I got stung on my pinkie.

I'd gotten so used to letting the nurse bees crawl around my fingers and there was never a problem. Yes nurse bees can sting but they don't seem very inclined to it. But these were 'street smart' field bees. I made sure the stinger was out and then smoked my finger and hand to cover the scent. But it wasn't enough coverage because a few minutes after that I got stung again in almost the exact same spot. These were actually my first bee stings while working inside my hives.

In hindsight my mistake was not smoking the bees away from my hands. Also, the frames of the deep were GLUED down. They were really stuck in there with a combination of burr comb and propolis, and probably some honey too! So I was having to manhandle them out of there and so there was more shaking and cracking going on than usual which got the bees' attention.

I ended the inspection on a real down note. No evidence of a queen or any brood at all. This was not a good sign. There were lots of bees though. I certainly could not tell if half the hive had swarmed a couple weeks ago or not since this is my first year and I have no experience for comparison.

I came home feeling down and concerned about this hive. I didn't want a drone layer to get started or I'd have real problems. Advice on the beesource forum and elsewhere is to put in a frame of open brood. Then if they were queenless, they'll take one of the larva and make a queen cell with it. Good advice... but did I have a frame of open brood? I wondered if the other hive might have one I could spare. If not, I'd have to see about obtaining one from another beekeeper, or just buying a queen and putting one in and then if there were 2 queens they'd have to duke it out.

I'd have enough stings but more than that, the weather was really overcast, spitting rain and cold. It was not a good day for an inspection at all. So we left the bee yard with plans to return in a few days, when the sun would be out to inspect the other hive.

Monday's weather was very nice, and the temperature was in the low 20's. Dad and I, and Mom too, when out to the bee yard. We lit up the smoker and then started our inspection on Hive #1.

I started pulling frames and the experience was the same as Hive #2 from the other day, except for no stings--no open brood, no capped brood. Not good signs.

(Here's a chuckle for you - see how I've duct taped my pinkie finger? It was so swollen from Saturday's stings that I didn't want to get stung again on the same finger so I duct taped it).

Then I thought I'd pull one more frame before closing things up. I looked at the frame covered in a good number of bees. Mom was standing on the other side with her camera and was acting like the paparazzi. I turned the frame slowly to check the other side... and saw her--so glorious, so beautiful. A sight to behold. The queen.

Found her! There she was in all her royal glory, cruising across the frame at her leisure. No she wasn't laying eggs that I could see, but she will I'm sure, given some time. Her abdomen was nice and long and she looked quite at home among her court. (See her in the photo above).

What a relief! We closed up the hive and did our high fives.

It's very possible that the hive is a bit honey bound, especially since it appeared there was shiny nectar in just about every available cell. What I'm not sure of is if this is okay, given that it's approaching the end of the year. Should there really be an expectation to have lots of brood this time of year? What do you think? I welcome your comments.

I had my yellow honey super on top of everything and they had not drawn the foundation yet so I switched it and put it under the purple super that was all drawn and capped. Hopefully that will bring it to their attention.

I didn't open Hive #2 but they were very busy with bees coming and going with a real purpose. The hive had a strong healthy buzz to it. I'm willing to bet a whole dollar that there IS a queen in that hive. Just because I didn't see her or any eggs doesn't mean she's not in there. I'll wait a few more days and then check again but I could just tell from the outside that things were okay on the inside--I know I have no experience but it just seemed and sounded 'queen right' to me.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

This Old Gal

I figured she must have been the oldest bee in the hive. I found her on the ground a short distance away, staggering as she walked.

It's sad finding bees on the ground because usually by then they're at their last hours of life. She was one of these. From the way she was struggling to even walk I could tell her time was near an end.

I picked her up. The least I could do was put her on the landing platform near the hive. Maybe from there she might make her way back inside. At least she could spend her last bit of time with her hive mates.

I was astounded at her condition. This bee could certainly tell some stories. She had bits of grit dug in around her compound eyes and head. Her fur, what little she had left on her body was wet and plastered to her. The surface of her black thorax was all pitted and no longer smooth. If only she could talk to tell of her journey of her trials and joys. How many flowers did she visit in her lifetime?

Her abdomen was no longer furry or fuzzy, her toil in the fields would have worn away the fuzz of a young bee. Instead her black stripes were very prominent against her golden yellow ones, darkened with age.

It was growing darker, on a rainly overcast day. I wished there was more light so I could see her better and get a decent photo. She looked like she had only one antennae. Maybe the other was plastered to her head from the rain. It was obvious she'd been caught in a rain shower, that would account for all the grit attached to her body. I imagine the rain would have pinned her to the ground. She was too weak and unable to fly home so she walked.

She came home. Once last time.

I set her on the landing platform and she stayed there. She didn't try to go inside the hive but instead turned to face outward to the world beyond.

Somehow that seemed to be the right thing for her to do.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Late Summer Drone Eviction

I'd read on the newsgroups from other beekeepers that they'd noticed that their drones were already being evicted by the workers.

Every fall it's customary for the workers to force the drones from the hive. It's kind of sad really. The drone can't feed himself - he doesn't have a long enough proboscis to dip into a flower and steal some nectar. He has no stinger so he's completely defenseless but he's awfully cute to look at and he has a purpose and that's to mate with a queen.

Despite all his good looks and loud buzz that always identifies him as a drone, he'll be evicted. He's a hungry stomach in the hive that doesn't give back by helping out. The bees must live off their winter stores and the drones not only create extra work because they must be fed by the workers, they also eat from their precious stores. So out they go....

Whenever I see a drone wandering around on the ground, like the drone in the photo above, I always pick him up to say hello. We visit for a while and I admire his furry thorax and long sleek back legs. It's an opportunity for a photo op for the drone and a chance for me to observe him close up.

This other drone in the next photo I found on top of my Varroa Mite sticky board--how the hell are they getting in there??? I've got it closed off - the only thing that should get through that narrow screened bottom board is a mite!!! There must be a tear in the screening or something but the only way to find out is to take the whole hive apart--that I'll be doing when winterizing.

I stopped by yesterday just to say hello to the bees and to observe from the outside. I recharged the sticky mat with Crisco. I was glad to see no additional mites dropped so that's a good sign.

The drone was barely alive and I presumed he was probably really hungry. Nothing else about him looked harmed in any way. I set him on the boards in front of the hive. And guess what happened? Two workers immediately grabbed him and struggled mightily but they dragged him to the edge of the board and threw him over the side where he dropped to the ground.

I did notice there were no other drones around, coming and going from the hive at all. That drone was too far gone for help, really nothing could be done for him anyway.

Since he couldn't fly or move I took him home. Once I was sure he was dead I added him to my collection of bees in an alcohol jar. I keep them because when drawing and painting bees it really helps to be able to see the real thing so I see how the parts of the anatomy work together. I know it's kind of morbid, but it's a good way to learn.

I'll have to make enquiries about whether I should feed the bees--I've certainly been thinking about it. With new queens laying I want them to boost egg production. The only problem is I have my honey super on and I don't want sugar syrup stored there. It very well might be wise to opt out of honey for myself this year entirely and leave it to them.

I'll be doing an inspection Sat (today there's a severe storm warning) and hopefully after that I'll be better informed.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Dwindling Bees

They aren't doing so well. They are dwindling down to a few bees. Why? As best I can tell it's because all the open brood have now been capped and hatched and there's no new eggs or larvae. At least not until the new queen sits her throne (sticks her butt down into a cell) and lays some eggs.

(Photo of Hive2 which varied from 10 to 25 bees on the porch).

And I'm worried. If you are a new beekeeper like me then you understand totally the overpowering desire to just crack the lid every few hours for a peak. I just wanna know what's going on in there!

But I'm trying to do things differently than in the past. Years ago I kept salt water fish and I was constantly messing around in the tank, changing and adding new things. If the fish had territory problems, I interfered. I was trying to help them. My heart was in the right place, but wisdom didn't always prevail and many times things didn't go well. In retrospect I know who to blame: Myself.

At first I thought they may have swarmed, and it is possible that they did… but both hives? I haunted the Beesource and BeeMaster forums, reading threads of emails about queens, supersedure and swarms. I trolled the internet looking for answers. The best I can think based on the scenario at hand is that they are dwindling during the wait time between the old queen and the new getting into action.

Interesting how on many of the threads the originator after opening the hive and tearing everything down, adding a new queen, doing this or that comes back and reports that things were fine all along and they just didn't know it and probably they shouldn't have interfered in the first place and just been patient to wait. I must give the bees credit that they know what they are doing.

This is why I don't want to tear the hive apart because there probably won't be eggs yet and so the only thing left to look for is the queen herself and I don't want to risk injuring her by removing lots of frames right now whereas if I wait a few more days I should be able to pull a frame and see eggs.

I feel like I'm parenting new children--bees, but I'm the one who doesn't know what they're doing. And just like those parents I want to crack the bedroom door open every hour just so I can watch or see them breathing, cuddled up in their little cells. I think I'd feel better if my new stethoscope had arrived - it was an E-Bay purchase and it's "in the mail". Then at least I could spy from the outside. Yes, I think about web cams, spy cams and GPS for my queen all the time… but
I don't think the technology is foolproof enough against that propolis or I'd seriously be installing them. It's pretty sticky stuff. After visiting the hive and washing my hands, my fingers and nails will be stained yellow for a few days. It makes me look like I've taken up smoking again--NO I have not!

(Photo of Hive1 which had more bees than Hive2 but not a lot of action).
I worry. I fret. Are they going to be okay? Now I totally get the part about beekeepers talking about downtime and catching up and building their numbers. It's all bee math which is clearly pointed out on Michael Bush's website (Bush Farms). Just like a human pregnancy, it takes a set number of months, days, weeks. It will take a set number of days until the hive is built up again to sufficient numbers to harvest the late summer and fall nectar and pollen and to prepare for winter.

Dear God, I pray the weather will favour us the rest of the season. Just please send that rain out to BC because they could really use it! I do think the supersedure was encouraged by our bad weather this year, especially since both queens appeared to be laying well in a nice football shaped pattern and both were superseded at the same time.

As I think about them constantly and start to feel down because I know their numbers are down, I have to remind myself that this is natural for them. It is part of the process. I understand that destroying the supersedure cells that they build and then adding your own purchased and mated queen would speed things up and prevent so much down time. And yes, sometimes that purchased queen isn't accepted and is superseded again. Like I've heard and read from so many beekeepers out there, you just never get the bees all figured out and it's hard to predict or figure out exactly what happened or what they'll do next.

Like a pregnant mother, I've counted the days based on the bee math and the 20 day mark will be Wed, 20 Aug 2009 this week. I had hoped to take some time off Thursday afternoon to do an inspection but so far the weather forecast isn't cooperating--you guessed right, rain! So, I may have to wait until Friday or the weekend…
I dropped by last weekend, and I put my ear to both hives. No more piping and no more "ouch" oscillating sounds. Just the hum of the hive, but it was definitely not as loud as it used to be. Bees were coming and going out front and seemed to have a purpose. I even saw pollen being brought into Hive #2, it's just that their numbers were low.

I photographed a dead bee on the ground that another bee spent a lot of time hanging around, which got my attention. I collected the body along with another one that looked similar and looked them over (I put them under my microscope at home)--I think they're dead queens. Look at the brown legs (all queens have brown legs) and the body doesn't have stripes. This bee wasn't that much bigger than a worker bee. Maybe it's an emergency queen? The other dead bee looked exactly the same as this one. But the queen I saw in Hive2 was a normal sized queen. The mystery deepens. Hopefully these are evicted queens that died in battle with the better queen winning.
Maybe I could drive out there mid week...just to visit...

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Oh My! Mite Counts!!!

On my last visit I checked my sticky board for mites. I saw 3 mites on one board and about 2 mites on the other.

The boards were no longer sticky and had been there for over a week so they were pretty covered in stuff. So I got out the Crisco and re-greased them with a medium thick layer to make them nice and sticky and then I slid them in under my Varroa Screen with a bottom board.

The Varroa Screens I get are from a guy in Guelph, Ontario, named Brent ( $13.00 each). I really like the design - I think it's better than the Dadant version. With the Dadant version, you have to lift the hive to get at the board, at least I think that's how it is used.

With Brent's design, the access is from the back which I much prefer. There is a gap at the back but what I've done is duct taped a flap of plastic sheeting. All I have to do is lift the flap and pull out the sticky board from the back of the hive. Then I can sit on the palette behind the hive, away from the bees, and count mites at my leisure (not that I enjoy it because I don't).

The actual sticky board is a white plastic cardboard piece that I just slide in and out on top of the bottom board. What I should do but I haven't done yet is to draw a numbered grid on the sticky board. That way when I do the counts I'll have a better track record on the drop count.

I let 3 days pass and so yesterday I went to check the sticky trap. I also wanted to put my ear on the hives to listen for piping to see if my queens were still in their battle phase.
Can you spot the 3 mites in the photo at left - click to enlarge? I've put the same photo below with the mites circled in red. Look for a shiny brown circle and you'll often see a little nib sticking out from the front - that's its mouth parts.

On first look, both hives had the same amount of activity. Hive #1 was slightly more active than Hive #2 but not by a substantial amount. The number of bees on both hives though seems less than I thought it should be. I'm suspicious that there may have been swarms from both hives with the old queens leaving... I don't know if there's some way to know other than to look inside and gauge by the number of bees inside... but being a first time beekeeper, I'm not sure how many bees I should expect to see in Aug after starting from nucs in June.

I noticed that the mite drops are all on the "busy" side of the sticky board. In other words, they're on the side of the hive where the 4 nuc frames were placed. On the other side, there's almost no mite drops.

Those frames are the newly built comb newly filled with pollen, honey and larvae after the nucs were installed. I'm curious as to why there's more droppings of pollen, wax flakes, bee parts and mites on that side of the hive. I would have thought by now that the whole deep would be busy and active at the same level.
(I notice that the lumps of pollen tend to bleed colour, making it easier to tell that they're not mites - see photo at left).

The activity looked normal to me, like busy bees coming and going purposefully. I didn't see pollen coming in so I'm presuming the bees are coming back with nectar.

(There's a couple huge fields of soya beans very close by which to the best of my knowledge haven't bloomed yet. Does anyone know if bees will forage in soya beans? I certainly hope so because that will be a huge boon for them very soon).

I pulled out the the sticky trap on Hive #2 and began the count. There was lots of debris to look through so I found I had to look over the board many times before my eyes were better able to spot the differences between flakes and bits of stuff and a real mite.

The mites are chestnut coloured and have shiny backs so if the light is shining on the board too, they're easier to spot.

I counted 12. That means 4 mites per day had dropped. It's also only an indication of the number of mites that have fallen off the bees, not the actual number that are probably above in the hive, which would be many times more. I checked Hive #1 and counted 10.

I wonder if the high mite counts and the terrible summer weather is what made both hives feel they should supersede their queens. I did hear piping in Hive #1 as well but I haven't opened that hive yet, but plan to this weekend.
(Click the photo to enlarge).

I should probably open both hives and look for drone comb to pull with my scraper to try to reduce mites. Just one female mite can take over a hive because it's only the daughters that live to hatch with the drone so their rate of expansion through a hive is extremely rapid.

I do have the lime green coloured drone bait comb foundation which I plan to use in the hives but I have expected these new nucs to build so much comb this summer that I didn't put the drone foundation in this year. Maybe I should have.

Now I will try to get through to the end of August and then treat the hives with formic acid pads.
Of course it is summer and that's the typical time when the mite counts peak. I'll have to talk to other beekeepers--that is if I can get a hold of any of them because they're so busy this time of year--to find out what their typical varroa counts are.
I also put my ear to both deeps and did not hear any more piping so I'm hoping the new queens are sorted out and that they've had a chance to get out and mate with drones.
I did hear the lower "ouch" oscillating sound though which I think might be the sound of queens in their cells... but I'm not sure on this point at all.
This weekend I'll once again recharge my sticky boards again just to make sure all the Varroa are being held on the board and not making their way back up into the hive. Mid week next week I hope to do an inspection on both hives to confirm that the new queens are laying--I'm just giving them a few more days to finish up with mating and to get back into the hive and get settled before I open things up again. I just need to confirm that there's open brood so I know I have a queen laying.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Queen Piping and Hive Sounds

Okay, so you thought I was a little crazy in my last post when I mentioned a sound I heard inside the hive.

(photo of the new hatched piping queen, presumed to be unmated, in Hive #2).

I said it sounded like the word "ouch" being said over and over really fast, faster and then slowing down, kind of like an ocillating fan.

Well, here's my proof that yes I'm a little crazy but here's the sounds of a queen piping and at the very end you can hear the ouch sound I'm going on and on about.

It's on U Tube at: (God bless that man for providing proof that I'm not completely crazy).

As you listen, when you approach the 7:26 mark on the recording and again at the 9:00 you'll start to hear the "ouch" sound faintly in the background. The man who did the recording thinks it's an answering call from the capped queen.

I've looked up piping on the internet and it's believed (not proven yet but suspected) that it's a call to arms, a challenge between queens in a hive. The piping can be done by a hatched queen (mated or unmated) and also by unhatched queens that are still inside their queen cells.

And for some awesome queen photos and supersedure cell photos see this blog: She also heard the piping when opening one of her hives.

Wikepedia has information on piping which I've quoted here: "Piping describes a noise made by virgin and mated queen bees during certain times of the virgin queens' development. Fully developed virgin queens communicate through vibratory signals: "quacking" from virgin queens in their queen cells and "tooting" from queens free in the colony, collectively known as piping. A virgin queen may frequently pipe before she emerges from her cell and for a brief time afterwards. Mated queens may briefly pipe after being released in a hive. The piping sound is variously described as a children's trumpet tooting and quacking. It is quite loud and can be clearly heard outside the hive. The piping sound is created by the flight motor without movement of the wings. The vibration energy is resonated by the thorax.

Piping is most common when there is more than one queen in a hive. It is postulated that the piping is a form of battle cry announcing to competing queens and the workers their willingness to fight. It may also be a signal to the worker bees which queen is the most worthwhile to support. The piping sound is a G♯ or A♮. The adult queen pipes for a two-second pulse followed by a series of quarter-second toots.[2] The queens of Africanized bees produce more vigorous and frequent bouts of piping."

What do you think of all this? I welcome your comments on your experiences with your hives.

It's all very interesting. So interesting in fact that I bought a stethoscope on e-bay for $25.00 so I can really listen. No, I'm not crazy. It's all in the name of research right?!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Queen is Dead. Long Live the Queen!

It was such a waiting game. Waiting and waiting. Waiting for the rain to stop.

I did my quick observation check of the bee yard on Friday and hoped to return Saturday. But Mother Nature vetoed that idea. It rained all day so I was stuck at home.
(photo of new queen on the top right near the clump of bees).
Sunday dawned with overcast skies but Dad and I were game to do a hive inspection on Hive #2. I realized I needed Dad's help because a couple weeks ago when I lifted the medium sized pink brood/honey super I nearly dropped it. It must weigh around 50 lbs and my healing right arm was too weak to support it.
I got it set down safely but there were a few scary moments there when I wasn't so sure I could hold it. (I'm lifting weights for physio for the right arm and to strengthen them both but it's a s-l-o-w process).
Just before calling Dad to see about what time we'd leave I checked The Weather Network. I could see in moments that it was a red scrolling screen day on the weather channel.
The text crossing the screen were giving severe storm warnings, 100 km damaging winds and don't rule out the possibility of a tornado in my area and Oxford County where the bee yard is. Okay. Scrap the mid morning trip to the bee yard. Darn!
The last time we'd been in Hive #2 everything was doing quite well but there were queen supersedure cells. On the advice of my long time beekeeper friend Henry, we decided to let the bees do their own supersedure.
(I'm not entirely certain if that's burr comb in the photo or a supersedure cell).
Then just over a week after that I was at the bee yard and I could see hardly any bees on the front stoop of Hive #2.
The bees were very quiet. Too quiet I thought or I guess the best wording would be that they appeared to be lacking purpose.
So I really needed Mother Nature to give us a break and let us have a peek in this hive. She did come through finally by mid afternoon. The Weather Network removed the red warning script. Apparently the worst of the storm arrived farther north of us. We didn't even get rain.
Hive #2 looked much more active. It didn't have very many more bees outside, but the bees that were there looked like they had a purpose. It was encouraging.
I started up the smoker and we dug in. They hadn't built any comb yet in the top yellow super.
No surprise there. They were not yet complete in building comb in all frames on the purple super but they had been busy working on filling my honeycomb frame with wild comb.
The pink medium deep (I'm running 1 1/2 boxes for brood) was really busy. I removed the third frame which was mostly capped honey. No brood or eggs. I removed the fourth frame. It appeared to have a supersedure cell on the bottom of the frame. I angled it as best I could for photos but it was covered in bees.
Then I saw her. She was moving fast across the frame to avoid the light. A queen. The queen. An unmarked queen. That meant she was a new queen. The supersedure had happened.
I grabbed for my camera while she scooted to the other side of the frame. Then she started piping. She kept moving from one side of the frame to the other but she was easy to locate for the piping sound she was making.
I was racking my brain about the piping. I think I read that piping was what unmated queens did.... but I needed to check this information again. That would have to wait for later.
I opted at that point to end the inspection and I carefully put the last frame in next to where the queen was. I was nervous of injuring her just when the hive needed her most. After the frame was in I waited a few moments. Then I heard it again. The piping coming from inside the hive. She was still alive and well in there.
There may have been other supersedure cells. It's even possible I've read that the original queen could still be alive and it could be a two queen, mother-daughter hive. That'd be awesome.
From the outside I put my ear to both hives. I could hear a general overall hum. Then a light ticking sound, like little running feet on combs. Then I could hear a loud sound. This may sound dumb, but it sounded like the word "ouch" said over and over very fast. The sound had an oscillating effect. Next I could hear every now again the piping of the queen.
Now I want a stethoscope so I can spy on my bees from the outside.
Note this photo of Hive #1 which has many bees on the outside (it was a really hot & humid day) and Hive #2 photo above to compare the 2 hives.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

What I Learned from Outside the Hive

I made a couple of discoveries yesterday. One was really fun and interesting and the other was frustrating and the last was a bit sad.

I was just back from vacation and so I planned to drop by to see my bees.

My plan was to observe from the outside, a check-in, just to see how they were faring.

The first thing I discovered was a cicada sitting on one of the platforms. It did not move very much so I was able to take quite a few photos.

I know that cicada nymphs stay underground for something like 7 years before they surface as the flying adults. I assumed that this one had probably already mated or laid its eggs because it looked like it was dying.

A week earlier I added 2 yellow medium honey supers to the hives with foundation. The bees were nearly done drawing comb in the purple supers.

Hive #2 I could see at a glance that something wasn't right--at least to what I would expect. There were very few bees on the front porch and not a lot of activity coming and going.

I stayed a while to observe and there was some pollen being brought in but comparing Hive #2 to Hive#1 there was a big difference in activity.

Hive #1 which was a bit behind Hive #2 was booming with activity. Bees were coming and going and it too had some pollen being brought in.

I found a few young bees walking on the ground exploring. I picked them up with my hive tool to observe them. It wasn't long until they discovered the honey there from my last inspection. This bit of honey proved to be a great distraction for a photo op. The bee was so busy eating up the honey that I was able to get lots of closeup photos. It was very interesting to be able to observe them up close without them feeling threatened.

After a while the bee flew off. I watched while it flew around and around some foliage as if it was looking for nectar plants. I'm assuming that this was a new and inexperienced field bee who was just learning about the great outdoors.

Then I found another bee walking around and picked her up and had the same result. She flew off too and then circled around the foliage. This reminds me of baby birds that I've seen just released from their nests. I think they're more accustomed to walking than flying and they haven't adjusted to the whole 'wing thing' yet. I've seen baby birds fall over when sitting because they opened their wings and they got in their way.

Later I took out my Varroa Mite sticky boards to look them over. I found one mite on each board, but what was more distressing was a curled up dying bee I found on the sticky board. Somehow she had found a gap at the back of the hive and had crawled in there. I could tell she was too far gone to recover, but the distressing part was seeing the two adult mites attached to her thorax, sucking the life from her.
I got out my small metal tool with the idea of prying the mites off the bee. Even if the bee was going to die I wasn't going to leave those mites there. That's when I made my nasty discovery. Those suckers can move! They actually ran away around the whole chest of the bee to a new location each time my tool got anywhere close to them. They were worse than ticks on a dog! I was shocked to see how fast they could move. They have a hard shell back too and once I caught them they were difficult to crush, but crush them I did.
Once the bee got down on the sticky board they probably found her and climbed onto her body. Obviously the mites are clever enough to move to avoid being cleansed off the bees. I can see that being a hygienic bee is a real challenge and I hope their genetics can keep up with the evil mite.

The sad part was watching the dying bee's antennae moving gently up and down. It was like she was tapping out her last message, her last body part that she could command to move before dying.

I found the small gaps at the back of the hive where a bee might crawl in and I used duct tape to fill them in so it won't happen again.