Monday, May 30, 2011

The Difference Between Drone and Queen Cells

My first year beekeeping I remember nearly swooning when I opened the hive and saw many large capped cells at the bottom of the frames.

Oh, no! Queen Cells, I thought.

They weren't. They're drone cells.

Drone cells are large with cupped tops, almost like bullets. The cells are larger to accommodate the bigger boys. You'll often see them sticking out of the middle of a frame. They look like large golden muffin tops.

When there's a bit more space in a hive and the bees build burr comb the queen will often sneak in there and lay drone eggs. You'll lift off a super or a deep and see clumps of comb along the bottom or stuck to the bars of the box underneath. These cells often get torn apart when you separate the boxes, spilling fat white drone pupae out.

These cells can be worker cells too but most often it'll be drone comb. This is when you get your hive tool going and scrape them off.

If it's honey in these combs you can lay it out on the front stoop and the bees will happily lick them clean. I think they might even take some of the wax back to reuse too, but I'm not certain about that.

When I first starting beekeeping I had a difficult time telling the difference between drone and queen cells. But they're not hard to tell apart because they are different.

Queen cells always point downward. They look just like a peanut textured finger pointing down. If you tip the frame upside down you can look inside and you'll often see a large pool of royal jelly and a larvae inside. The nurse bees will be tending it carefully and often their bodies will be clumped all over this cell and you'll need to ask them to move so you can see.

[Photo - two drone cells and a cluster of four are to the right - notice their position is the same as worker cells.  The large queen cell is far left, pointing down.]

Queen supersedure cells are customarily positioned at the halfway point on the frame and swarm cells are positioned at the bottom. But either way, the cells always point down with the opening underneath.

[Photo - The bottom of the frame, looking up.  The queen cell is not capped yet and faces downward.  The large bullet-like drone cells are sticking out from both sides of the frame.]

Queen cells are larger than drone cells too. Often hives will keep a couple of "queen cups" around. These are starter queen cells which look like the bowl of a tea cup. If these cells are around don't panic... but if there's an egg in one then you'll know the bees are getting serious about swarming/superceding.

An easy way to check a hive to see if there are swarm cells at the bottom of the frames is to tip your boxes up and look underneath.  This saves you having to pull each frame one by one to check.  Sometimes when a frame is pulled these queen cells break open or get crushed.  That could be a good or bad thing, depending on whether the bees need a queen.

[Photo - this is a queen cell with a live queen jiggling inside it.... but more on that story next time...]

I hope this is helpful to the other beginners out there.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

First Hive Split

Hive #4 was a nuc last year.  But that was then and this is now:  A couple weeks ago they were packed with bees and set to swarm.

I think the only reason they hadn't already swarmed was because of the bad weather we'd been having.

After seeing the queen cells I couldn't relax, worried they'd decide to go before I'd get a chance to split the hive.

The forecast was playing games too.  They'd say rain and then the sun came out.  And I was stuck at work unable to get away.  Would they be gone by the time I got there?

No.  Whew!

I took holiday time and raced out to the yard.  I did a full inspection.  I was thinking if there was just a couple queen cells I might try crushing them, and give them extra supers for space.  Maybe they'd change their minds.

But there were lots and lots of cells - all situated on middle frames and at the bottom.  Two big cells were even capped.  Decision time:  I'll do a hive split--my first.

I found the queen on the fourth frame with brood and set that into an empty hive box.  Next I put in a second brood frame, leaving all the bees on the frame.  I also inserted a frame of pollen and finally a frame of honey into the box = Four frames total.  I decided that the new hive should have the old and more experienced queen.  The existing hive will have a new queen.

I took some honey frames and shook bees into the hive.  Each time I'd put a screened lid on the new hive to keep the bees inside.  At first the bees stayed on the frame but as time passed they were scrambling and wanting out.

I knew to keep the hive in the shade while I worked on the second hive.  I used a screened bottom board as a ventilated cover to keep them in and allow them to cool themselves.  I took them home.  I needed to put them in a new location for a period of time so they wouldn't fly back to their old hive.

Once home and set up, I put in an entrance reducer and let them out.  They went right for all the water sources in my back yard--several bird baths.  The birds were perplexed at all this new activity.  What I noted and will remember is that nucs can get very hot and thirsty.

(Note:  The first water source bees find they will continue to go back to so you want to make sure it's NOT the neighbour's swimming pool.  Provide a water source close by).

I remembered how John would give the queens a square of moistened paper towel to sip from and how it'd calm them down.  So if you're picking up or transporting a nuc - do them a favour and let them have a drink, especially if they'll be in that box for a while with no way to get out.  Just give them a dampened square of paper towel every few hours.

In a couple weeks I'll take the new split back to the bee yard.

I admit I've enjoyed observing them flying around at home coming and going with purpose.

So far so good.  We just need the rain to stop.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Queen Swarm Cells

My first mistake this spring was delaying a full hive inspection.  The weather had been cold and crappy--rain and more rain.  That's what made it so easy to put it off.  And I still had the winter wraps on.

My full time job kind of interferes too.  I'm sure you can relate.  The sun ALWAYS comes out during the week when I'm working and hides on weekends when I'm free.

I took my hive wraps off a couple weeks ago when the weather finally warmed up.  I did remove the entrance reducers the week prior so the bees could clean the hive easier and to reduce traffic congestion.

Finally we had a sunny/overcast day with temperatures around 26 degrees Celsius.  Thundershowers were expected in the afternoon so I hadn't planned on doing hive inspections that day.

Once at the bee yard, the sun was out and I figured I could at least inspect one hive before it rained.

[photo at left of a swarm cell - it's placed at the bottom of the frame and it points downward].
Hive #4 was loaded with honey.  There were capped cells in the middle frames and I found two queen cells, long but not yet capped.  They were at the bottom of the fourth frame--swarm cells.  Crap.  The hive was bursting with bees and was obviously feeling overcrowded.  The result is the bees planned to swarm.

It is actually a sign of a healthy hive so I shouldn't complain.

I left the cells as is.  I hadn't seen a queen yet and didn't want to be too hasty to crush them.

Besides, destroying queen cells doesn't always stop the bees from deciding to swarm.  I had given them a super a couple days prior so they had more room.

I inspected Hive #1.  It too was heavy, full of honey (where did the bees get all this honey, especially since the spring had been so cold and rainy???).  This hive was concerning.  I saw very few capped brood, the cappings were spotty.  I didn't see any larvae either.  It was starting to cloud over and the bees were especially mad (possibly a sign of queenlessness) and unlike their usual calm behaviour.  The weather can make them cranky too.  I closed up so I didn't get through the two medium boxes to check them for eggs or brood.

A further inspection is certainly needed.

I also need to accept the inevitable.  At least one hive needs to be split or they'll swarm.

All of a sudden it's time to inventory what equipment I have on hand.... I wasn't prepared for this.  I thought this year would be like last year:  Add supers continually and the bees will stay = no swarming.

They got ahead of me this spring.  The cold weather hadn't slowed them down as much as I thought it would.

Resourceful little things.  They're still outsmarting me.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Home Scent: Bee's Nasonov Gland

There are lots of occasions when bees will be clustered together.

You use your hive tool to loosen the inner cover and crack it up an inch.  It's heavy.  It might be covered two inches thick with bees.

They might be clumped under your hive top feeder, happily building comb.

They will exploit every space that's greater than the bee space--1 cm--and build comb.

One method to remove clumps of bees is to hold the object over the open hive and shake it abruptly.  Also, thumping the edge of the of the object is very effective.

[Photo - bees are walking up from the inner cover and into their hive].

Shaking and thumping can get the bees in the air and it can also throw a lot of them to the ground.  If they're young bees they may have a hard time finding their way home.

A slower but very effective method is to set the object in front of the hive.  The best way is to lean it against the hive.  The bees will soon catch the smell of home and walk up.  If they can step off the object right onto the platform it's easier for them.

Older bees will stick their rears into the air showing a tiny white area that's their Nasonov gland.  They'll beat their wings vigorously and and release a homing scent from this gland.  The stragglers will catch the scent and follow it right to their front door.

Read more about it on Wikepedia or see my video of it in action below.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Power of Two

When it comes to working in the bee yard, two people working together is easier than one.

But often I find I'm on my own, lifting 45 to 50 lb super boxes.

My muscles didn't dissolve during winter and I was really relieved to find I could heft the boxes right away this spring.... and yes, the bees have got a couple supers filled already.

I'm not certain where they're getting all this honey considering the wet spring we've had.  I do have a theory... but I'll get into that another time.

The bees know how to glue the supers together with propolis.  It can be really difficult to pry them apart.  Here's a trick that we use and two people can do it or one.

I use two hive tools.  First I get one hive tool into the crack between the supers (yellow tool at left).  Then I use the tool as a lever, pressing down until I create a small gap between the supers.  I put the second tool into the crack next to the first one.  Then I lever the second tool to create a gap and remove the first and insert it in the gap--kind of like working hand over hand with the tool.
Then all that's left to do is heft the box without getting stung and squishing bees.

No problem.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Aussie Queens Say Gidday Canada

I was at Oxford Honey and Supplies in Burgessville, Ontario, getting some supplies.  I didn't know if they'd have queens there.
Last time when I was there and they had a shipment of queens I didn't have my camera with me.

Before leaving home I grabbed the camera, just in case.  I was in luck.  They had a queen shipment.

The queens had been picked up from the supplier at Toronto's airport.  John advised that as soon as they get the queens they immediately open the cardboard boxes and give them water.

Warm droplets of water are sprinkled on pieces of cloth that the bees can sip from.  Last year the queens were piping, a high horn sound.

As they were given water, they quieted and settled down.

The journey from Australia would be probably around 25 hours in flight.

Queen deaths during shipment were amazingly low, which is a testament to the good care the shippers and receivers give them.  And why not, they are precious.
Back at the shop, local beekeepers will stop by to pick up the queens they ordered.  Most of them will be used when they make splits of their hives.

I did a video recording and you can hear the bees feet as they move around.

They'd already had their water and were in a warm room.  They were calm and the queens weren't piping.

The cages have a candy plug in one end and a cork plug in the other.  The supplier inserts the queen and her ladies in waiting through one end and then corks the hole closed.

The screen keeps them in, lets them breathe and once placed in their new hive will protect them until they are accepted by the bees in the hive.  They'll eat the candy plug to free her and by that time her pheromones will be familiar and they'll accept her as their queen.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Engage the Hive Top Feeders

Homeward bound at the end of a busy day, a worker happily trudges across the platform to the entrance of her hive.

She's loaded with pollen, a sign of a successful trip.

Today there were two shades of pollen coming in, a bright yellow and a soft yellow/white colour.
The rain that was predicted didn't come and the bees took full advantage and kept flying. 

Three hives have finished their sugar baggie/Fumigilin treatment so I am now using the hive top feeder - which means I can give them more syrup.  They're in week 2 of a 4 week treatment for American Foulbrood (AFB).

Hive #2 is extremely slow to take their meds and also not too quick to clean their hive--signs of lack of good hygiene I think.

Hive #3 love to build comb in any extra space.  I removed rim spacers to cut down on their extra space.

See how the bees build the doublesided comb with a 15 degree uphill slant?  That's no accident at all.

They do that so when the combs hang the liquid honey and nectar doesn't run out.  Surface tension also contributes to keeping the honey in the comb.

Certainly not dumb bugs, that's for sure.