Thursday, August 25, 2011

Weird and Weirder

A few weeks ago a small swarm showed up in my yard.  They moved into a super of extracted wet frames that had been set out for the bees to rob.

So I let them move in.  I did a brief inspection after a week and saw they were clustered and busy building combs.

After two weeks I saw they had capped cells.  We looked over all the bees and there was no sign of a queen.  All the capped cells were bullet shaped drone cells.

I figured it was a laying worker and that the swarm may possibly have originally come from Hive #2 which did go queenless and ended up with a laying worker.

Since there were so few bees I was going to resolve the problem by doing the shake method - shake them out on the grass and walk away - let them find homes in the other hives.

The other day that's what I did.  When I shook the bees most of them went up in the air.  I then removed the equipment leaving them no home.

They began to gather on the platform where their hive was and several workers started to do home scenting.  I felt bad for them.

A couple minutes later I checked on them.  They were in a cluster.  And in that pile of bees I saw a caramel coloured abdomen.  She was small, but she was there--a queen!

Where on earth did she come from?

Then I realized that I had just shaken them out of their home.  So I quickly put everything back together.  The queen jumped on my hive tool and I set her in the hive.

Then all her workers marched inside while I stood there apologizing for the rude interruption to their day.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

We Can Stay ...for a while longer


We met with the city and they were very supportive.  What a relief.  And a surprise.  I hope it's a sign of changing times.

The old buildings will be demolished and at some point a company will buy the land and build a factory on the site.  It'll be sad to see the landscape change but it's hard to argue when a new industry will create jobs for our city.

In the mean time we can stay.  At least until the end of this year.  After that, we'll have to see.

We've been given more time.  Time to explore other possible sites.

Now I can get back to obsessing about my bees.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Finding Marlin

Sometimes life's instruction comes in an unusual way.  I'll never forget one of my favourite movies, Finding Nemo.  It's a computer animated children's movie about a clownfish family.

In a tragedy the Mom fish is killed and the young son is captured by a diver and taken away.  Now the father fish, fearful after losing his wife must go out past the safety of the reef to find his son:  Finding Nemo.

Quite the adventure.  I can see how it's so like beekeeping with the ups and downs along the way.  We're constantly dealing with one problem or another while trying to keep up with new threats like small hive beetles.

One of the great ups is making friends along the way.  In Finding Nemo Marlin, the father fish is full of anxiety and fear at the dangers out there beyond the reef.  He makes friends with a blue fish named Dolly and they both look for Nemo.

[Photo - me staying cool by eating Feezies].

The important part for me is understanding the transition Marlin goes through.  Somewhere along the scary fear driven journey one episode after another Marlin learns to let go and just be.  Then he starts having fun.  Instead of being afraid of the jelly fish he learns to jump on their tops - the stingless part.

And Marlin laughs.  Is the journey still hard?  Yes.  Is it still scary?  Sure.  But Marlin has learned to relax and laugh along the way.

And so I'm being a Marlin.

We had a wonderful opportunity for a bee yard at Pioneer Village located on conservation land less than two kms away.  We were a go ahead until their top brass killed the plan.  So after one phone call with the bad news we have no place to go.

So like Marlin I'll continue on my journey but instead of panic I'm going to jump on the parts that don't sting. 

It should be a good laugh.  At the very least it should make for a hell of a good story.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Honey in the Air

Usually the smell of honey in the air is quite pleasant but on this excursion I don't think it was helpful.

I took five supers off Hive #1.  Three of them had been previously extracted and returned as wets.  The bees had started filling them with nectar but they weren't capped yet.  I made the decision to take them.

I'll put the supers in the freezer to give back next spring as wets.  The reason was twofold, I want to encourage them to finish filling the three supers they were left with and then get started on the deep.

The two supers were nearly full and quite heavy - those will be theirs for winter.  The deep was pretty light so I knew that the queen would be using it for brood.  Last year the deeps were too light so this year I'd rather overdo it and give the bees lots of time.

As I worked alone brushing bees off the frames into the hive I noticed that bees were coming and trying to rob the boxes I'd removed but hadn't brushed off yet.

When I finished and closed up the yard settled down. I knew it would rain the next day and I had limited time. I decided to tackle another hive.

I was concerned that Hive #4 might be queenless - yes now I'm over reactive after Hive 2 had lost their queen.  So I removed all supers down to the deep and pulled a frame.  Lots of capped worker cells and larvae of different ages.  So they're not queenless and I can relax.

Hive #4's deep weight after a heft was identical to Hive #1's.  I took 3 supers from them and left them with three - two that are full and one to work on.

With the smell of honey already in the air the robbers returned.  What I should have done is covered the supers to keep the bees inside and not let in the robbers.

The way I do extraction is to remove all the supers I'm going to take from. These sit next to the hive on a table. Then I place an empty super on the hive and brush off the frames into the hive. Any frames I'm not taking can then be set into the empty super on the hive. The empty super also provides a place for the brushed off bees to go so they don't just pile up on top of the box.

The stinging started then and for the first time I put garden gloves on to help preserve my fingers from stings so I could finish.

It was getting late in the day and I'm sure the bees weren't too happy with me but finally I was done. Sadly I counted 25 dead bees - all from fighting. Another lesson to be learned.

The second and more pressing reason to take the supers with uncapped frames from the hives is that we may have to move our bees next week. Our deadline to be out of the bee yard is 19 Aug 2011.

And we have no where to go.

But more on that situation in my next post.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Hive #2 - Queenless Hive and Laying Worker

They say hindsight is 20/20. Well I can see clearly now the failure of Hive 2 as certain events from the last two years come to mind.

The second year I put a foundationless frame meant for honeycomb in the middle of the super. I wasn't using a queen excluder and this queen liked to come up and lay in the supers. The bees had drawn drone comb so the queen laid drone eggs. (If not using an excluder these frames should be at the outside edges). I was reluctant to kill the drones by cutting out the comb. That was a mistake. With more drones the mites increased. The whole year the hive was plagued with mites.

I also noticed three other things that were typical with this hive: They wouldn't take their meds, they wouldn't eat the syrup and they weren't cleaning the hive. They wouldn't use their homing scent much after I would disturb them like the other hives would.

They were just different. I thought I should requeen.  But the second year this hive produced just as much honey as my best hive.  They just did things, well, differently than I expected.  I thought I was being judgemental of their unique way of doing things and opted not to requeen.

I knew these weren't the best queen genetics, especially not being hygienic. My plan was to requeen in the spring 2011. Hindsight plays its part now.  I should have done it last year.

Spring came so cold and wet that the bees were behind. The hive had very few bees and their production was very slow to get going. But they did pick and things were slowly moving along.

Queen breeders were a month late and orders piled up while they waited for the queens to get out and get mated. Then when the weather finally got better we had a postal strike. No queens were coming by mail.

Then we were thrown a big loop--we were told the land where our bee yard is was being prepared for sale and we needed to find a new location. Immediately the focus changed to removing supers to downsize in preparation for a move and also frantically looking for another location.

The result was that Hive 2 fell off my radar.

I did manage hive inspections where I confirmed the hive was queenless and had a laying worker. The number of workers in the hive had dwindled to the point that I had to consider whether requeening was worth it.

The hive was also dealing with constant robbing so entrance reducers were needed.

I cancelled the queen order. If I added a queen the bees would most likely kill her. They thought they had a queen.

Next I hit the internet for advice and called my beekeeping friend. How best to deal with a laying worker?

It looked like my mistakes, their bad queen genetics and the weather were going to be the downfall of this hive. I wanted to save it.

I remembered reading beekeeper emails where they discussed the time when you have to weigh the effort of the economics to try to save a hive against its chance of survival.

With so few workers left and the season ending I had to face the fact that this hive wouldn't be able to regenerate itself quickly enough even with help.

But it isn't doomed. It can be combined with another hive.

The best website I found for combining options was Bushfarms Laying Worker page. Michael Bush gives many options to choose from and suggestions for what works best.

I opted for #7 - "Put a laying worker hive over a queenright hive on a double screen board and after three weeks, shake the laying worker hive out in front of the queen right hive. This almost always works."

The double screen will stop the bees from both hives from being able to sting each other. The main reason for the screen is to allow the brood pheromone to rise up into Hive #2. Over a few weeks the pheromones will cause the laying worker's ovaries to be suppressed and stop her/them laying (often there's more than one).

After that I could do the shake out front or a newspaper combine between the hives so they can finally get fully introduced.

I did double screen combine about a week ago and Hive #2 is dong well. They're guarding their entrance (reduced). They're on top of a strong hive that's doing fine as well.  They're to stay like that for 3 weeks (see photo above).

Now they just need time to let those pheromones work. Amazing how something we can neither see nor smell can be so powerful.

Amazing too how that hindsight can come back to bite you on the ass.  But the teeth aren't so sharp and painful if you can make a valuable lesson out of it.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

They Say It'll Never Happen

I've been told by many beekeepers when I ask.  "No, it'll never happen."

The question?  "If I put an empty hive into my bee yard will a swarm move into it?"

I'd ask the question when chatting one on one with a beekeeper.  I'd ask the question at meetings or at visits to bee yards.  They'd all shake their heads, "No, they won't move into it."

I'd always ask why but no one seemed to know why it doesn't work.

But one beekeeper told a rare story about how a swarm flew into his yard and moved into a nuc box that he had sitting in the back of his truck.  Now that's convenient and considerate bees.  I think those kind of genetics should be carried forward in bee breeding.

 I'm here to tell you that it did happen.  To me.

After extracting I set out about four supers with wet frames on my robbing table.  We weren't booked for rain but just in case I placed inner covers on top to shelter them.  The bees were quite happy and many came to lick up the honey.

I returned about four days later.  The first thing I did was check the trees close by to see if there might be a swarm (one time there was!).  I checked the robbing station.  There were only a few bees on the combs.  The combs were dry and licked clean and not much interest to the bees anymore.

I worked in the yard most of the afternoon, inspecting and checking supers.  When taking a break I noticed a lot of bees flying over the station.  They were doing circles, around and around but not landing.  I knew right away it was a swarm.

Walking over I checked the trees for a swarm but saw none.  There were drones there too and they were landing on one of the supers.  The bees began to clump there and then several put their rears in the air and Nasonoved.  Homing scent.

This wasn't the activity of robbing bees.  I noticed they were coming from the west.  I happened to have a bottom board so I put that under the super and placed a lid on.  They all moved inside and within a half hour they were home scenting from the stoop.

Mind you this swarm is really small and some would say a swarm in July ain't worth a fly.  Regardless, it did happen, really!