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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Latest Notes

It's been a wet, wet spring, which is wonderful! The rain has everything growing so beautifully this year. However, it's been a bit tricky timing inspections. I also have a sick hen on my hands (a separate long story for another day), and nursing her has been time consuming to say the least. But I found a quick window of opportunity, and I took it.

The nucs
Overall, I was really pleased with the nucs.

Celestia and Bubblegum. These two ladies were chockfull of brood and honey. Since they were out of space, I actually had to donate some of the honey bars Hippolyte for to cure. I left each of them with 3-4 empty bars. Hopefully, they can build/start filling them before the clover ends (typically the first couple of weeks in July).

Peach has shattered all my expectations of her. She did so-so hive last year, and didn't come out of winter all that well. However, she boomed this spring. I chalk her growth up to a donation of capped brood and the removal of a bunch of old comb.

About three weeks ago, I made a shook swarm with her old queen for my neighbor. He stopped by last week to tell me what an amazing queen she was and how spectacular her brood pattern was. Not to toot my own horn, but while he thought she was one of his best queens ever, I considered her just ok.  So this is where I'm going to make a plug for treatment-free beekeeping. Dr. Seeley's studies show that treated queens and drones are nowhere near as fertile and vigorous as feral bees that are untreated. In fact, studies show that using chemicals in the hive actually decreases fertility.

Anyway, yesterday, I noticed that she had successfully requeened, and the bees -- oh, the bees were spilling out of the nuc. Like Celestia and Bubblegum, she had also filled up all her bars, so I donated 2-3 bars of brood to Buttercup.

Peach's bars and the underside of her roof were covered in bees.

Buttercup was a second split made from Celestia three weeks ago when I could tell that one split wasn't going to be enough. As far as splits go, she was pretty weak -- just 2-3 bars of brood & stores. But even she had managed to fill out about half of the nuc (about 7-8 bars). Hopefully, the donation from Peach will give her a good jumpstart.

The Big Girls

Austeja was the only disappointment of the day. I'd expected lots of progress; instead, there were very few bees and no new comb or brood. I suspect they absconded. The stragglers left behind appeared to have tried raising emergency queens but failed. Looking at the comb that I'd moved over to this hive with her split, I realized that all the combs were kind of old. Maybe that's why they took off.

To keep her moving in the right direction, I donated 5 bars of bees and brood on fresh white comb from Elsa because I wanted to keep Elsa from swarming. In hindsight, though, I wish I'd simply combined her with one of the nucs.

Aborted attempts to make queens in Austeja

Elsa is like Old Faithful, making honey and bees. Got no complaints. However, as I mentioned before, I do wish that I'd either combined Austeja with one of the nucs. A good alternative would have been moving Elsa's queen over to Austeja instead of just brood. Now I have this huge colony that still hasn't had a brood break this year. Perhaps, I'll ask around to see if someone wants a queen in a couple of weeks.

Hippolyte is humming along. Nothing exceptionally good or bad to report.

Persephone remains my problem child. When I requeened Persephone with a swarm cell from one of the nucs this year, I finally gotten rid of all the "bee-tches" from the psycho packages I bought 3 years ago. But she continues to be a menace. She's the sole reason I wear protective gear. At times, I've thought of burning her to the ground, but she's just incredibly productive and healthy.

Of course, I have to put things in perspective. 3 years ago, she was un-inspectable. My entire body would be covered in stings within seconds of opening the cover. Nowadays, she mostly issues a black cloud around my head, and my gloves take the brunt of her attacks. Compared to the old days, she practically treats me like a lover. I suppose this is what happens though when you name a hive after an underworld goddess -- you get bees from Hell.

Anyway, I could tell that she was starting to think about swarming -- nearly out of space, lots of queen cups and drones in the making... Ideally, it would be nice to wait for swarm cells before splitting her, but the truth is that I simply don't want to handle her any more than I have to. Waiting for swarm cells means having to crack her open a few more times, and she scares me a little! My neighbor doesn't mind uppity bees since he suits up completely for every inspection, so I gave him a preemptive shook swarm from Persephone, which he will take miles down the road.

In an emergency situation like this, it takes about 14 days for a new queen to emerge (July 4th -- Independence Day!). Then another 3-10 days to lay eggs. So we're looking at eggs somewhere around July 7th-14th. To be honest, though, I haven't decided yet if I even want to look at her again until harvest. Quite frankly, it would be a relief if she died out and left me lots of honey.

Don't remember which hive this was from, but it's so nice to see honey in the hives!!!

So that's it for the bees. The catalpa and clover are blooming, but they should be on their way out soon. So far this year, though, reminds me a lot of 2015 when we had exceptional spring and fall harvests and bees continued find nectar over the summer. Fingers crossed that the resemblance continues.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

A Full Beeyard Again

Last fall, an acquaintance of mine expressed an interest in seeing the bees since she'd like to take up the insanity that is beekeeping. Given the dearth we experienced most of last year and the onset of winter, my bees were super cranky. Not wanting to provide a bad first experience, I advised her to wait until spring.

During my previous full inspection, I'd made a 50/50 split with Celestia. However, I had no idea which hive Her Royal Highness was in, so I asked D to check with me.

D finally gets to see the bees. 

It turned out that Celestia was still overflowing with bees and queen cells, so I made a second split from her into Buttercup. However, she was indeed queenless. The queen had gone to Hippolyte, and the bees were busy filling that hive with comb.

We also took a quick peek at the nucs Bubblegum and Peach. Bubblegum was starting to make queen cups. Peach was completely un-inspectable. Have no idea why she was so angry, but it wasn't worth it. I closed the nuc up immediately, but the bees were all the way at the back, so she looked fairly full, too. (BTW, the other hives were beautifully behaved. Didn't even need gloves or jacket for them.)

That was on May 19. Fast forward to May 31. I knew Bubblegum was getting close to swarming, but I just never got back to her. Then yesterday, while listening to my daughter practice her guitar, a distinctive buzzing started up during This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land. I turned to find a small collection of bees gathering in my fireplace. Say what?!?!? After lighting a fire to smoke out any bees that were considering setting up shop in my chimney, I resolved to make another full inspection the very next day.

Silly bees. Chimneys are for fires.

Persephone: I don't know what the deal is with this colony, but they've abandoned the front entrance and have made their own entrance along the side of the hive. So their brood is toward the middle back, and all the honey is at the front. It's kind of inconvenient for me, but they've never expressed any consideration for me anyway.

The queen cells that I'd donated from Celestia were all open, and eggs were present - yay! I was planning to give the new queen and some bars to my friend J, but as soon as I found the new queen, I lost her again. Anyway, since all was well and good, I closed up.

Bubblegum: Bubblegum had a quite a few capped queen cells. My guess is that she's the one that swarmed and sent scouts down my chimney. Using the swarm cells, I was able to make a split for J. He may appreciate her offspring better anyway since Bubblegum is way mellower than Persephone.

Peach: I had promised a split to my neighbor, and Peach looked like she was starting swarm prep (backfilling, etc.), though no queen cells yet. Made up a shook swarm with her queen, and A will take her to his beeyard in a neighboring town this evening. Also, to speed up the requeening process, Peach got a bar of queen cells from Celestia.

Can you find Peach's queen? She's about halfway down the photo on the left.

Celestia: Celestia is one of the splits I made during the last inspection. The piping of a new queen indicated her presence, though, I didn't find her. 3 queen cells were about to emerge, and rather than let them be eliminated, I moved them to Peach. I also gave Celestia a bar of eggs from Hippolyte in case I had screwed up and moved the queen. Fingers crossed.

With no babies to care for, Celestia is making honey

Buttercup: Made this split from Celestia on the 19th with swarm cells. The queen has emerged, but no eggs yet. Just in case, she also got a donation of eggs from Hippolyte.

Hippolyte: Looks beautiful. Gave her lots of space and will try not to pester her for at least a couple of weeks.

Elsa: She had 3 empty bars left, and it looked like she was thinking about swarm prep, but she hadn't made any queen cells yet. Although, I'd prefer to use swarm cells for a split, I decided to split her preemptively since I'm trying to space out my inspections more this year. Moved some bars into Austeja so that about 1/3 of the hive is now open. Again, I don't know where the queen is, so will check in a few days.

Elsa is starting to cap honey, too.

Austeja: She's got bees again thanks to Elsa. However, I did learn a lesson. I had left her entrance open while she was empty in case some scouts decided to check her out. But I neglected to check the hive weekly, and the very first bar I pulled out had a small wasp nest attached. Fortunately, it was really tiny, and I only needed to rip it off and stomp it.

Surprise! Surprise!

Unfortunately, I never did get around to retrofitting Hippolyte and Austeja with insulation while they were empty, but oh well. All the hives are full again.

I have no idea which queen this is, but she's purty.

According to the US Drought Monitor, my area has finally been downgraded all the way from Severe Drought a few months ago to just Abnormally Dry. The forecast predicts a week of rain starting tomorrow, so maybe we'll be back to normal soon.

No room at the beeyard
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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

What TBHs look like after 30 days without inspection

Recently, rain, cold weather, work, birthday parties, and chicken-related jobs have all conspired against me. As a result, my TBHs haven't been inspected for a full month. But today was a glorious, sunny 72 degrees F. Not willing to let another day pass without peeking in the hives, I burned through work and took the rest of the day off to spend some quality time with the girls.

To keep the coop costs under budget, we had to finish up certain things ourselves like adding hardware cloth around the run, a chicken door, run door, nest boxes, etc. Not difficult tasks, but time-consuming. 

Primrose, scratching up some tasty treats

Olive, taking a break

Fully expecting to see a lot of cross-comb, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the bees had cooperated and built things out beautifully straight. It's so nice when they actually do things by the book. Here's a quick rundown of what I found:

Persephone: This colony has settled down considerably since she requeened herself a couple of times last year, but I still want to get rid of her because she's apt to go after my husband. A beek I know lost all of her bees over winter. She has a farm, and doesn't mind bees that are slightly testy since she suits up completely. So I made a shook swarm for her today. I also donated a queen cell from Celestia to speed up the re-queening process. Hopefully, the bees won't tear that cell down.

Celestia: Other than the ant infestation under the roof, this colony was the highlight of my morning. She was bursting with bees and had begun making swarm cells. One bar with swarm cells went to Persephone. Unwilling to attempt finding the queen, I did a 50/50 split with the rest of the colony, so Hippolyte has bees again as well. The only bad part is that I haven't had a chance yet to retrofit Hippolyte with insulation and a hinged roof. So I'll have to decide if that's something I want to try while it's full of bees or wait until it's empty again.

Freakin' ants. Yuck.
The back of the hive. Bees are bubbling out.
The first bar I pulled out. This hive is definitely going to have swarm cells in it.

Look at that brood pattern!

Bubblegum: She's not quite as far along as Celestia, but she's definitely getting close. In another week or so, I expect to see some swarm cells in this one as well.

A few queen cups getting started
Peach: This nuc was weak during the last inspection, which was unsurprising given how weak she was going into winter. However, the donated brood seems to have made a difference. She's picked up considerably since then. Although she's not anywhere close to swarming, she should continue to do reasonably well.

Buttercup: A month ago, I spotted a tiny queen and small entourage. I should have combined her with another hive (maybe Peach), but I wanted to see what would happen if I just let things play out. Given that it was already April at that time, I figured they might have a chance since stuff was blooming, and I was curious.

My hopefulness has given way to suspicion over the last couple of weeks because the amount of activity surrounding the nuc has lessened considerably. My fears turned out to well-grounded since this hive died out. However, last night, I talked with my neighbor who also keeps bees, and he also experienced a few smaller hives that made it all the way through winter only to die out in late March/April.

Elsa: Elsa continues to do very well. Given the amount of space she has, she's not as full as the nucs, but with 20 bars of brood, she is getting there as well. Lots of drones and some queen cups started. I gave her some empty bars to build on and will continue to monitor.

I don't remember finding Elsa's new queen last year. 
Turns out she's blonde, which was a surprise since all of her previous queens have been black.

So that's all for my inspection notes. As long as the weather holds out, I'll check on the splits in 3 days to figure out which ones have queens. Fingers crossed for continued sunshine (or at least some fair weather on Friday).