Saturday, June 29, 2013

Bees Recycling Propolis

If you've gone through a full season in beekeeping you've probably noticed that the bees tend to take their wax and propolies and move it around.

An example would be in the fall when the entrance reducer is put into the hive.  My understanding is that propolis is generally collected in the spring.  I'm not so sure if they can collect it in summer and it most likely isn't available in the fall.

My reading on propolis is that it's a sticky sap collected from tree buds in spring.  It may be that the tree buds is just one source of it though.

With the entrance reducer, I put it in the hive in the fall and yet in early spring when I remove it I'll find  it's well glued into place with propolis.  From what I've observed I'm pretty sure the bees scrounge it from other parts of the hive to use in a spot where it's needed most.

Now, with summer just starting to take off and the warmer weather here, I have a couple of swarms that I collected into hives.  These hives don't have a surplus of propolis because they're newer.

Whenever I have a clump of propolis on my hive tool and that I've removed from a hive, I never throw it out.  You can actually make an antiseptic ointment from it for one thing and for another, the bees can reuse it.

I'll leave a glob of it in the bee yard.  As you'll see from the video, the worker is very happy to have found a supply of the stuff already on hand.  You'll see in the video how with great enthusiasm the worker chews pieces of it off the lump and attaches them to her back legs.

Throughout the day I observed her coming back several times and over the next few days the size of the lump got considerably smaller.

The bees mix propolis with bees wax and use it as caulking in their hives.  They can fill holes where drafts and rain come into the hive.  The substance is antibacterial and anti fungal so it also serves as a way to help keep the hive sterile.  There have also been some reports that it's believed propolis helps to reduce disease for the bees.

It makes sense.  The bees always know when they've found something good.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Hiving a Swarm

I have two new favourite tools that I keep handy for swarm collecting.

They are a rake and a cardboard box.

This medium/small sized swarm landed in the pear tree right next to the hive they swarmed from.

I was fortunate this time because they landed only about 12' off the ground.

The other two swarms I had in this same tree were 25' and 30' up.  Too high to try to get down.
Spring has been a little frustrating with rainy weather.

A busy work schedule prevented me getting time off to be in the yard.

So I lost 3 swarms, although as mentioned, a couple of them were pretty high up.

The wind and rain had made it difficult for the bees.

Clumps of them had dropped off the swarm and fallen on top of the hive.

Miserable wet bees.

I stood on a stool and put my rake up to grab the branch the swarm was on.

Then I pulled it down within reach.

Next I shook the bees from the box into a waiting hive.

I used a nuc on this occasion but I find when shaking you need a box that's wider so it'll catch more bees.

The cardboard is light to which makes carrying it up a ladder easier.
Next I shake the box into a waiting hive.

I remove a few centre frames so the pile of bees have a spot to fall into.

After they've been in there a few minutes I can gently set the frames in place.
If you get the queen it won't take any time at all until the bees have their butts in the air scenting the homing scent with their nasonov glands.

 Wet and cold bees seem to take really well to being put into a nice cozy hive.
Then I put paper towel in a container and plucked up the wet bees and dropped them in it.  They dried out very quickly.  Then I shook these stragglers into the hive.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Recipe for Queen Cage Candy

 We were given this receipe on the queen rearing course.
It was pointed out that if the mixture is too runny it will make the bees wet and sticky which is not a good thing.

After pressing the mixture into the end of the queen cage, place a small square of wax paper on top covering the candy before stapling the screening closed on the queen cage.
Insert the cork plugs in sideways so that they can easily be removed later when it comes time to insert the queen.

This recipe is from the book Queen Rearing & Bee Breeding by Laidlaw & Page.

Chapter 5:  The Care and Use of Queens:

Sugar Syrup:  Powered surgar mixed at 1:3 ratio
Stir powdered sugar into syrup

When thick, knead with powered sugar until firm and does not run

Add small amount (drops) of glycerine

Leave for several hours before using, to check firmness.
The mixture should not be hard and dry nor soft and sticky.

Store in an airtight container in a cool dry place.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Recipe for Pollen Patties

Recipe:  Pollen Substitute, Protein Supplement

2.8 lb    Brewers yeast (nutritional supplement)
2.8 lb    Granulated white sugar
900 ml  Water

Add the water slowly, stiring the mixture.  Then mix with your hands.

Flatten the patties between sheets of wax paper.  Leave the wax paper on when putting in hives.  Rest the patty on the top bars of the frames.

You can freeze them for future use.

Recipe from the book The Hive and the Honey Bee by J.M. Graham, Ed:

Chapter 14:  "Managerment for Honey Production":

Makes 32 Cakes:
2 ounces (4 pounds) pollen
6 ounces (12 pounds) soybean flour
5.5 ounces (11 pounds) water
10.5 ounces (21 pounds) sugar

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Walk Away Splits and Swarms

They say a swarm in June is worth a silver spoon.  And it can be.

It's swarm season.  The problem I have is a new job that doesn't have a lot of flexibility to get time off.  Then add in Mother Nature not cooperating with sunny weather on the weekends.  Its a recipe for bees in trees.....

I have a few hives that have a stronger swarm genetic.  I know who they are and I know I have to watch them carefully.  They're always the first bees to swarm in spring.  They are good producers and very gentle, making for smoke free occasions when working the hive so I guess one fault against them isn't quite so bad.

The hive I call Echo started off as a tiny swarm from one of my hives.  There were about 200 bees in this swarm.  Most beekeepers wouldn't be bothered with a hive this tiny, especially late in the year but I'm a hobby beekeeper so I can give more time to these things.  The swarm was happy to move into a super I set out for them and after about two weeks they had a queen present in the hive and laying eggs.  Note this hive would have been the fourth or so swarm that left the main hive and that's why it was small.  They also had a virgin queen.

But they sure have made up for their smallness.  They are doing exceptionally well.  And it was time for a split.

The first goal in a split is to find the queen.  The hive is in four medium supers.  I removed the top one and set it down.  I start by removing an outside honey frame, check for the queen, and set it aside.  Then frame by frame I lift out and search for the queen.  Then on to the next box, removing it and setting it down (not on top of the previous box).  After searching all 4 boxes I could not find the queen.  They certainly had 15 or so queen cells capped and ready to hatch.

My queen mojo had failed me.  Normally I'm a really good queen spotter.

While pulling frames its unfortunate but often a lovely queen cell will get torn open.  That's what happened to two queen cells.  One queen came right out into my hand and she was running.  I quickly took her over to a hive that I knew was queenless and held her up to the opening.  She ran right inside.  Another queen got out of her cell and I put her in another hive that I had previously split and I knew was producing a queen--that hive was actually the mother hive that Echo originated from.

I found another cells that was open and the queen was gone.  She would have climbed out and gone down in the hive.  Later that day the bees put a queen out in front of the hive dead.  She had no injuries so I can only assume that she was not ready to be hatched yet.Now I had waited all day to be able to open this hive.  It had been cooler and very overcast all day, threatening rain.  All I dared do in the yard was put supers on the hives just to give the bees more room.  But when I took Echo's inner cover off I could hear queens piping.

Piping is a high pitched peeping sound that queens make to challenge each other.  It means as soon as I hatch the fight is on!  It also means that these queens are ripe for hatching at any moment.

So when the weather finally warmed up a bit and the sun started to come out and the bees started to fly I went right to work splitting this hive.

But after all that searching, no queen.  Instead I opted to split the 4 boxes evenly with supplies:  Frames of honey each, frames of pollen each, frames of capped larvae and open larvae each.  I shook bees into the split.  Most of all I made sure both boxes had queen cells.  I closed them up and that was it.  Now I had two supers for each hive.

It's called a Walk Away Split.  I set them up and then leave them to sort out who the new queen will be.  After a week or so I'll check back to make sure they each have a laying queen.  If the weather stays rainy (and it has) it may be a couple weeks before they have mated queens.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Multiple Eggs in a Cell

If you've done any reading on queens you will most likely have read about queenless hives.

If a hive remains queenless too long then the queen pheromones that supress the ovary development of the workers is no longer there.  What can happen is a worker or workers can start laying eggs.  When this happens we have what's called a "drone layer".  A worker can lay eggs but since she has not mated and has no sperm, the eggs can only be drones.  It takes fertilization to create a worker egg.

One of the key ways to tell if you have a laying worker is if you see more than one egg in a cell.

I have seen this.  In fact, in a small swarm I once saw about 10 eggs all in one cell.  I've also watched a worker lower her butt into a cell to lay an egg.  Often the worker can't reach the bottom of the cell and so the egg is angled on the side.

If you see multiple eggs in a cell, hold on a moment before you take any action.

On two occasions I had a very small swarm move into an empty super in my yard.  The first time I saw this there were about 100 bees.  On the second occasions there were about 200 bees.  They were very diligent and started working right away and bringing in resources.  I checked them each day for the first few days and there was no queen.  After a week or so I saw multiple eggs in the cells.  I figured I had a swarm that was queenless and there was a drone layer.

A couple weeks later when I opened the hive I saw larvae in worker cells.  And I saw a queen!

Where had she been all that time before?  Since the bees were all located on only one frame the hive was easy to inspect.  She must have been off on mating flights when I checked the hive and rainy weather would have delayed her opportunities to get out for mating flights.  On both occasions with these small swarms it t took a good two weeks before I saw a queen.

I've read that new and inexperienced queens can sometimes lay multiple eggs in a cell until they get the hang of it.  I've also read that the workers can move the eggs.

So take note if you see multiple eggs in a cell but don't panic yet.  Give it a bit of time and keep checking to see if they do have a queen.

This hive that started with 200 bees has continued to expand rapidly since late last summer.  It's now a very active hive that's chock full of bees and doing very well.  In fact, it's time to do a split before they swarm on me.

Sometimes waiting just a little bit longer before taking action can give things time to reveal more about what is really going on in a hive.

Monday, June 3, 2013

A Queenless Hive in Spring

One hive was doing well in early spring but I did notice as the weeks went by that the number of bees was dwindling.  This is a clear sign to do a check for brood.  It may be nothing but then again it can be the first sign of a queenless hive.

It's not necessary to tear the whole hive apart to find the queen.  Instead focus on evidence that she's there.  Such as:  Eggs are the best if you can see them.  They hatch in three days.  A day1 egg sits totally upright, a day2 egg has a slant as it begins to lie flat, a day3 egg lays flat in the cell.  Tiny larvae are great too, indicating brood that are only a few days old.  The chubbier the larvae the older they are.

Capped brood is at least a sign that there was a queen producing brood with the last week or more.

A sign I have found when a hive is queenless is when the centre of the frames in the middle of each box are all filled with nectar.  Also there will be a lack of brood of any kind and often little or no pollen either.

How to resolve this?  If it's very early spring there won't be local queens for sale yet.  In Ontario beekeepers buy imported queens from either Australia or Chile.  That's one option is to give the bees a mated queen.  She'll be ready to lay right away once accepted.  This will avoid a month dip in productivity.

If there are no eggs at all or brood there are a couple problems that can happen.  One is the lack of brood and their pheromones means that a worker could start to act like a queen and lay eggs--except they'd all be drone eggs.  The bees also aren't so productive without the brood pheromone pushing them to bring in the pollen.  The other bigger problem is that the bees can't make a new queen without eggs.

So give them both brood and eggs from another hive.  I go to a good hive and choose a frame with young larvae, capped cells and most importantly eggs.  I check the frame carefully to make sure there's no queen on board.  Then I transfer the frame, bees and all into the queenless hive.

I take a frame from the queenless hive to switch over (removing the bees first) or I'll give them a blank frame to draw comb on.  A drawn frame is best though so the queen in the good hive can start laying right away to replace the workers I removed.

Believe it or not the bees in the queenless hive don't get to fighting.  They're young nurse bees.  After putting anywhere from one to three frames from some of my hives (I don't steal that many frames from one hive) I've watched how within an hour the bees have gotten themselves organized.

They'll start guarding when before they weren't, they'll start cleaning and taking out the dead.  They get focussed and get to work.  The brood pheromone keeps them motivated.

The advice from experienced beekeepers is to give them a frame of uncapped brood every two weeks until they have a queen.  At this point the idea is to keep the brood pheromone in the hive by continually supplying them with brood.  Also as the cells are capped they'll hatch out over the weeks increasing the number of workers in the hive.

I've followed this advice and it worked very well.  I'm doing it now with one of my hives.