Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Long Live the Queen

We've now done our 4th 
weekly hive inspection and things are buzzing along nicely in both hives.
The larger colony reached 80% capacity 
so we added another brood box to allow them to expand upward 
to prevent overcrowding and the urge to swarm.
That same colony has built a queen cup that can potentially become a queen cell.
If it were being built at the bottom of the frame, 
it would be a sign that the colony is planning to rear a second queen 
in order to divide and swarm.
But, 
this cup is in the center of the frame.
which is an indication that the colony is considering supersedure.
If the queen is too old, 
or the colony has decided she is not performing up to par, 
they may rear another queen to replace her.
We should be able to tell with the next inspection if they have decided to do so.
Time will tell.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Our First Hive Inspection

Me and my bee hives.

Though they were my idea, my new hobby, my obsession, 
I can't really call them mine any longer. 
I had no idea that my sweetheart would fall as madly in love with our bees
as I have. 
Because he had expressed so much apprehension in the beginning and tried to
persuade me 
to wait until next year to start up, 
I really did think that this is something that I would doing on my own.


 Now, 
at least in this early stage of beekeeping, 
these bees have become a regular part of our daily routine.


During the three days prior to our first inspection, 
we had been spending time at the hives just curiously watching these
amazing creatures buzz about.
With the binoculars we can really get up close and personal with the little critters. 
On the second day, we noticed some fluffy looking grey stuff
lofting out of the hive entrances. 
After some wondering about what it was,
we realized that it was tufts of chewed up newspaper from the sheets we had used to insulate
 the 4 frames of comb filled with brood, nectar, honey, and bees 
from the empty outer frames in each hive.
The bees were chewing away at it in order to spread out into the new vacant areas.
We were jubilant!
 And, we watched in amazement
as the bees would pick up pieces of the debris and fly out of the hive with it for disposal.


So, 
after giving them enough time to settle in and get some work done in their new homes,
 we were super excited, together, to do our first hive inspection.
 We were anxious to see the queen in each hive,
or at least to see newly laid eggs as signs that they were alive and well.
We were also eager to see if the colonies were growing into
the new space they were given.



We opened up the hives,
one at a time,
and peeled away the newspaper that remained at the top of the frames
to expose all of the bustling activity.



Here, on a brand new frame, 
the bees are building up fresh, white, perfectly hexagonal comb. 
How exciting! 
The colonies are growing quickly.
Busy Bees!


In this close-up you can see newly laid eggs in the cells 
at the bottom right corner.
We didn't actually see the queen in this hive, 
but the eggs were evidence enough that she was present 
and doing her part in increasing the colony's size.
In the other hive we did see the queen. 
We were so excited to see her, yet anxious 
to tuck her back into the hive to keep her safe, that we forgot to look for eggs. 
But we're confident that she's laying well.  
  


Just look at these precious little baby bee faces!
So adorable!
It pains me to have to do - or tell you about - this part of beekeeping.
Varroa mite pest control.
There are several different ways to monitor and treat these parasitic pests.
The nucs of bees that we purchased were bred to be mite resistant
through hygienic practices.
Though it helps to keep the number of mites lower than in hives that 
do not practice mite control, 
they do still get mites. 
So, the beekeeper must do their part in helping to
control these destructive pests.


Varroa mites prefer drone (male) larvae,
10 to 1,
over worker (Female) larvae,
because they take longer to develop.
They stay capped up, developing, in their cells a few days longer which
allows the mites to feast on them, undisturbed, for a longer period of time.
One method the beekeeper can use to control the mites
is to insert a half-depth frame into the hive
which the workers will build larger drone comb onto the bottom of.
Then, every two weeks or so,
before the larvae is fully developed the beekeeper cuts off the drone comb,
inspects for mites,
and discards the comb,
 eliminating a large portion of the drone attracted mite population.


Well,
there was no way for us to know that the 24 days it takes
 for drones to develop and hatch
had come due, for one of the hives, on the day we did our first hive inspection,
only 5 days after bringing them home.
The other hive was obviously younger, as a unit,
and the drone comb was still in the larval stage.
As undesirable as it is was to have to sacrifice the drone brood
in the smaller colony,
it was not as heartbreaking as having to sacrifice the
already birthing drones
in the larger, obviously older, colony.



Here, in this close-up photo,
you can see the lesser developed drone comb in the background.
All of the larvae were still enclosed in the wax capped cells,
all white and largely undeveloped. 
Upon breaking the comb apart for inspection,
we did not find any mites feasting on the larvae
 - a good sign: 
no, or low, mite infestation.
The hatching drone comb, however, we did not break apart to inspect yet. 
We were in awe watching the drone hatch-lings.
We didn't know what to do with them at this point.
So, we just sat and watched
as one after another chewed their way out of the wax caps covering their cells,
and worked so vigorously to pull themselves up, and out.


That's when we noticed them.
The tiny, dark specks
shifting from side to side on the capped cells - mites.
There were no mites inside these cells either, as far as we could tell,
when we finally examined the remaining undeveloped larvae in this comb.
But, 
there were plenty of mites hanging around,
waiting to climb aboard the newly hatched drones.
I witnessed, 
as two of the hatch-lings were emerging from their cells,
the mites crawling to the edge and climbing right up
onto their moist, tender little bodies.


I knew, then, that I wouldn't be able to
put the precious baby drones back into the hive 
to be nurtured by the rest of the colony.
And, I knew that they wouldn't survive,
being so young and tender, for any length of time.
It was still too early for them to make their way out into the world
to find a virgin queen to mate with.
Heartbroken,
 I took the larvae and all the newly hatched drones to my mother's chickens
and gave them a special treat.
That's actually what I had planned to do with the larvae.
But, It was those precious newborns that I was so torn up about.
I could see the disappointment in Tommy's eyes too.
  

They say to check every two weeks, or so,
 to see if the majority of the drone comb is capped off,
and remove it from the hive then to do an inspection.
(We're keeping notes in a journal which will help in tracking this sort of thing)
At least we know to never let it get that developed before removal.
If so, 
a beekeeper either runs the risk of letting loose all those mites within the hive
to further multiply, 
or suffering the sacrifice of precious baby bees, 
even if they are drones.


Those fellas seem even more precious
because they are defenseless; they have no stingers.
And, the female workers
kick them out of the hive to die, come winter, to conserve resources.
Their tongues are so tiny that they can't even feed themselves.
They're used to the pampered life.
Their only function within the colony
is to find a virgin queen to mate with in order to pass on genetics.
But, once they do, they die.
The ones who never mate just fly out to a drone congregation area, by day,
with the rest of the boys
to hang out and wait for a queen to fly by.
By night,
they just hang out in the hive and get groomed and fed by the female workers.
You see,
They are precious!




A short video:
Tommy narrating -
The Hatching of the Drones.



















Wednesday, 8 May 2013

All Abuzz

We 
(my wonderfully supportive, 
yet originally reluctant, 
turned promising beekeeper partner, 
Tommy, and I)  
brought the nucleus hives home late at night after all of the foragers had returned home, 
so as not to leave a single bee behind.
The bees were all abuzz after being jostled about and taken for a drive. 
And, we were a bit nervous to open their doors once we placed them on their stand 
there in the dark lower yard.
We were assured that at night, with no light, bees are crawlers not flyers. 
Of course, there were a few that hadn't heard about that rule!
For one full day we left them there,
those thousands of bees in their tiny little homes,
to buzz about, to forage a bit, and to learn the lay of the land.
Early the next morning, there was a bit of activity,
but nothing remarkable. 
Later, as the day warmed up,
the foragers began returning home with their legs loaded with pollen.
Fast workers, those bees!
A variety of pollen from different sources, ranging from pale yellow to bright gold,  makes for happy bees.

-----------------------------------

Then...
 the following morning,
when the foragers were out and about again,
we moved the colonies from their humble, little abodes to their new, improved, happy hives.

Since we already had our hands full, we were unable to document the move with photos.
To take the time to do that would have also put additional stress on the bees.
   I have to say, we were stressed too to start - awkward, and nervous.
As we went along, though,
we relaxed a lot and became more comfortable with the process
by the time we started into the second hive.
It was a bit of a chore - and we worked within a cloud of bees for quite some time - but, it all went well.
The majority of bees transferred into the hives along with the frames of comb.
But, there was chaos in the air
especially after knocking the last bunches of bees out of the nucs to empty them completely.
Even so, they really didn't take long to settle down - or, so I thought.
I wouldn't recommend returning to a freshly disturbed hive without protective gear
to perform one quick, last task.
I've learned a valuable lesson.


Even though the bees seemed to settle down quickly, they were still on alert,
 and an angry bee head-butted me in the nose.
I didn't get stung, surprisingly!
But, I panicked when she continued to pursue me and I ran.
When her buzzing became louder and more agitated, I realized she was in my hair.
I started flipping my ponytail wildly to dislodge her while running, then I turned to run back downhill when the uphill slope became too laborious.
I was dizzy, and losing my footing, and weaving back and forth trying not fall.
The downward pull of gravity on my unsteady feet was too much to overcome and I managed only to swerve to the right one last time in order to avoid falling into the Ivy bed where poison oak had sprouted up.
I went down on one knee and rolled downhill nicely, without injury.
Tommy had witnessed the whole episode and came to my rescue.
He lifted up my ponytail, found the bee, and brushed her away.
She then immediately darted for him, and turned back for me once again.
We made haste for the house as she followed us up the hill.
Luckily, she must have decided we were no longer a threat, and turned away.
Whew!    


Oh,
the joys of beginner backyard beekeeping!


So...
winded, and with wimbly legs 
I donned my protective gear, once again, 
just to finish putting a jar of nectar water into the second hive's feeder box.   

The small striped feeder box allows for inside, and outside access.
It sure didn't take long for the bees to find them and to appoint a sentinel to each
to stand watch
just inside the holes.

We didn't spend much time looking for the queens in the transferring process.
We'll spend more time on that during the first hive inspections.
We did spot a few of the drones, though.
They're hard to miss in a crowd of small worker bees with their big eyes, and fat, rounded butts.
Those cute fellas have no stingers.
We'll let the bees be for a while now.
In three days or so, we'll check for signs that the queens are alive and well, and laying eggs. 
It'll be exciting to see how much new wax comb the girls have built.
And, how they're spreading out.
With developing brood, 
and the queen laying about 1000 new eggs a day, there'll be 
bizzy, buzzy beez
everywhere!

We,
(my wonderfully supportive partner of 15 years, Today - Tommy, and I)
will be enjoying many laughs recounting "the incident" to each other and everyone else.
You know, as he tells it,
I was also spinning in circles, flailing my arms about around my head.
I, however, don't remember that detail.
He really is wishing it was all caught on tape.
Happy Anniversary, Honey!











Sunday, 5 May 2013

Happy Hives

Tonight is the night!
We pick up our 2 nucleus hives of bees - 2 weeks earlier than expected.
We got the call night-before-last that the nucs were bursting at the seams, and that the bees are ready to move into a bigger home. 
PANIC!
I didn't know which way to turn to start tying up the several loose ends 
that we thought we had 2 more weeks to complete.
This was the big one.
I wanted to paint the hives in my favorite colors, 
rather than leave them plain white.
I had actually planned for that this weekend, 
but not in the fast-and-furious style that it ended up being.
They say that painting side-by-side hives each a different color 
helps to prevent drift.
If they're all the same, forager bees sometimes return to the wrong hive,
leaving their own hive low in numbers,
and another with a high population.
  Since bees see in color, they will recognize which hive is theirs 
if it's unique to the others.
So, I bought 'Caribe' blue & 'Intoxication' green.
But, I just couldn't bring myself to paint the boxes solid colors.
Hopefully the bees will recognize left and right pattern orientation and know which hive is home.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Bright May Days...


with birds singing, 
and flowers springing.
Oh, yeah, 
and can't forget about the bees buzzing.
Yep! 
Thousands, upon thousands, of them.
I CAN'T WAIT, I CAN'T WAIT, I CAN'T WAIT  
Been prepping the gardens - usual spring happenings.
BUT, this year,
we've also planted a whole lot of lavender - specially - for the bees.
So excited! 
And, yeah, 
a bit nervous too!
I wanna do right by them.
More to show and tell soon!