Friday, September 4, 2015

My Gut Says...

Don't worry, this is not a post about worrisome bowel noises, so breathe and relax.

Sorry about the twofer today, but I have to vent. In my last post, I mentioned wanting to check Austeja in the next week or so to make sure she doesn't produce a late season swarm. Out of curiosity, I opened the observation window just to see what was going on. The first thing that caught my eye -- right smack in front of me -- was a bar with TWO capped queen cells one cell that a queen had emerged from. A few bars closer to the entrance was ANOTHER capped queen cell!

I tried taking photos, but it was impossible to get a decent photo with the glass reflecting everything. The one ok pic I got had bees all over the queen cells, so they were indistinguishable anyway.

What's going on? Swarm or supersedure?

This year and last both gave me experience with swarm prep. My first year, the bees superseded, so I kind of know what that looks like, too.

Two things trouble me. 1) The nest has been backfilling with honey which means they don't have a lot of room. Then again, that's what they're supposed to do this time of year. 2) Also, the colony doesn't look as full as it normally does. Of course, that could be my imagination. It could also be the fact that I'm not used to seeing it midday when the foragers are out. Usually, my peeks are done earlier in the morning or toward evening (i.e., the cooler parts of the day when I'm in my garden). If it really is emptier than usual, that would indicate a swarm -- maybe even the bees that I meant to pick up from that near cutout opportunity!

Despite these bothersome details, though, my gut is saying supersedure. My gut could be horribly, horribly wrong, especially since I've seen only one side of the comb. There could be oodles of queen cells on the other side for all I know, but I don't think so. Here are the facts that have me leaning toward supersedure:

  • Usually, prior to swarming, the bees make (to borrow a phrase from my kids) a jillion billion queen cups. I didn't see any.
  • In the past, when my bees have gotten swarmy, they've made literal dozens of queen cells. There isn't enough space to fit that many queen cells on just one side, so they cover both sides of the comb. I didn't see that many today.
  • With swarms, my bees will have dozens of queen cells in various stages. In other words, some will be close to being capped; others will have larvae in different stages; some will have eggs. In this case, all the queen cells seem to be about the same age. You can tell because the tips of newly capped queen cells are sort of white and soft. As the queen gets closer to emerging, the tip of the cells gets darker, browner, and more papery.
  • The open queen cell may or may not even be recent. I never removed the queen cells after making splits this spring, and this open cell doesn't look very fresh. Usually, they wax is kind of raggedy where the queen chewed herself out. The opening looks a little smooth. 
  • The reigning monarch (if this is a supersedure) has held her title for over a year now, and she's made several splits. That means she's laid a lot of eggs and may be running out.

What to do now...

I suppose I could verify the situation by checking for eggs. A supersedure will have them. A swarm won't. Honestly, though, I probably won't do a blessed thing. Probably. Sometimes my curiosity is just too great. However, if I'm wrong, then they swarmed a couple of days before they capped those queen cells, so there's naught that will help now. If I'm right about it being a supersedure, there's still not a blessed thing I can do. 

Actually, in either case, it would be nice to have a newly mated queen going into winter. A frequent cause of winter dead-outs is poorly mated and/or aging queens who run out of eggs over the winter. A new queen would definitely be fertile enough to get through winter. A supersedure would be even more awesome because there would be two queens in the hive for awhile, i.e., there would be no brood break during this autumn flow.

My only real concern is making sure the hive has a mated queen before autumn begins. Over the past 3 years, my hives have made 10 queens. Only one of them has ever not returned from her nuptial flight, but all the professional beeks will tell you that 50% of their queens never come home from mating. If this is a supersedure, it's not so bad since the hive will have eggs. If this is a swarm... I might have to consider other options like combining or getting a queen.

Nuts, I've changed my mind. Looks like my plans for tomorrow have just changed to include a hive check. Maybe I'll even suit up and look in my grumpy hives, too. If I have to muck around in one out-of-sorts hive, I might as well deal with them all at the same time.

Making Honey

My neighbor across the street has honey bees, too, so there is a delightful time every morning when I walk my kids to the bus stop and I pass through a corridor between my yard and his. The air is just perfumed with the scent of honey. Mmmmmm! Heavenly!

I said I was going to feed Buttercup and Elsa, but I haven't all week. I've had quite a lot on my mind and so have been very lazy regarding my bees lately. However, observations of the entrance show an influx of pollen and honey. You can tell a lot from watching and smelling the entrance. Actually, as my experience has progressed, I've begun to rely on external observations more and more, especially after the summer solstice.

All the hives have busy foragers, but today, there was a skirmish outside one of the nucs. I haven't had much of a problem with robbing, but Buttercup's guards were ganging up on an intruder.

In the past, I've always felt a bit of incredulity watching nature documentaries. How can the people making them just stand there filming a baby animal being eaten? Yeah, yeah, even wolves have to eat. But how do they just roll the cameras when the babies simply need a little help, like a penguin stuck in a crack? How do they not intervene? Are they made of stone? Well, look at me now. I'm one of them.

Regarding the two package hives, Persephone & Hippolyte, I can't even remember the last time I opened them. It's probably been more than a month ago already. Doubtless, things will be quite interesting when I finally do take a peek inside. My fault, but I just can't -- at least not until we're into fall and I'll be only too happy to wear impenetrable armor from head to toe. Besides, I figure we're well past the time of active comb-building, so my hope is that any cross comb will be minimal and near the divider board.

Persephone gets a lot of shade, and her bees are coming and going, but she's never built a lot of comb and doesn't smell of honey at all really. Hippolyte has loads of activity and just oozes a sweet, sticky scent.

The only hive I opened today was Austeja because she's the one that I pretty much expect to take some honey from. Near the divider, the last couple of combs have only a tiny bit of honey, but they have some, which is a good sign. I only looked at two of the combs in the nest, but they are being backfilled very nicely, indeed! Also, there are two partial combs on their way to being capped as well as an additional full comb that is quite full of nectar. In all, she has about 20+ combs that all have some amount of honey. While 20 combs doesn't seem like much, but she also gave me 4 nucs this summer, so I'm quite pleased with her.

Drone comb being backfilled with honey

Austeja is normally the gentlest colony you could desire, but this time of year seems to give bees PWS -- Pre-Winter Syndrome. Even the sweetest of bees get really cranky and sting-happy. Bearing that in mind, my usual tank top was swapped for long sleeves today, and I'm so glad made the change! After about 3 bars in, they began buzzing like mad. Another bar in and they were pouring out of the hive and whirring around me. PWS couldn't completely warp their normally polite nature, though, since they didn't even head-bump me once. 

One thing that surprised me about Austeja is that she was building out the partial honeycombs. Normally, without constant feeding, it's very hard to get them to build anything after the spring flow ends, so I'm thinking this must be an ok flow right now. I'm going to try leaving them alone for the next week, but I'll check again just in case. I definitely don't want to get caught with my pants down and have a late-season swarm occur.

How are your bees? What's your flow like?

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Cut-Out That Wasn't

In the past few years, I've gotten calls about beehives, but they always turn out to be wasps. Boo. That's why I was so excited yesterday when I got an opportunity to check off an item on my bucket-list -- CUT OUT!!! Whoot whoot! There were a couple of problems, though.
  1. No empty hives on-hand (I can't believe that after last year, I STILL haven't learned -- Always keep an empty hive!)
  2. I have no clue how to use a chainsaw. I have one -- I just don't know how to use it.
My new friend, John, though, has just finished building a hive and needs bees for it. He tells me he's used chainsaws, but doesn't own one himself. We agree he can use mine, but there's a hitch -- he's not available until Friday. Not ideal, but we play the hand we're dealt. 

In the meantime, I obtained permission to visit the house where the tree was located and to do some reconnaissance on the hive. I was assured someone would be there to point me to the tree.

So I pull up to the house, and someone is there, but the tree... The tree is gone!

Apparently, the tree cutting crew took it down yesterday. From the description of the hive, I think it must have belonged to a colony that recently swarmed from another location. I'm guessing they moved in within the last few days because the hive contained only two combs with some honey, which the arborists ate.

From the description I got, it seems that the bees swarmed after the tree was felled (I was told that there weren't any bees left on the comb) and clustered on a nearby branch. Man, I wish I'd known that because I would've nabbed them yesterday! In any event, they were off to a new home by yesterday evening. The former bee-tree, being in the way, was moved to a new location. Foiled again!

Rob, the man I spoke with & owner of the tree company, shared his photo of the small cluster with me, which I'm sharing now with you.

If there's anything good that's come out of this, though, I now have a contact for more bees. Maybe next year.