Sunday, September 6, 2015

A Little Kvetching Followed by Lots of Happy News

First some kvetching.

After spotting three capped queen cells through Austeja's observation window the other day, an inspection seemed in order to determine if they were swarm or supersedure cells. While I was at it, it seemed a good idea to take a look in the two dreaded hives that have collectively been renamed The Beests. Therefore, on a 90-ish degree day, I donned jeans, bee jacket, leather gloves, and even lit up the smoker. A 45-60 minute inspection of 3 hives turned into a couple-hour peek into all 7 colonies.

I overheated to the extent that even a cool bath didn't truly get me back to normal. Three hours later, my cheeks are still burning. Then again, it's possible I just have the fever that both my son & husband have contracted. Or maybe I'm entering "the change." In any case, next time, I'm going to split inspections into two days and suit up for the mean girls only.

To add insult to injury, I got stung in the leg because of the protective clothing. Unbeknownst to me, a bee had landed on my thigh, and I put a gloved hand on my leg -- smooshing her right into my skin. I console myself with the thought that one sting is better than thousands. No doubt, I'm due for a sting anyway.

If my kids had complained this much, I would've asked by now if they wanted cheese and crackers with that whine, so here's the mostly happy news.

She definitely swarmed. Wouldn't it be ironic if the bees I went to see last Thursday had come from her?

About half her bees were gone, and approximately a dozen capped queen cells dangled like drop earrings from her combs. Here's the puzzling part, though. I spotted a virgin queen, but she wasn't piping, and the girls seemed uninterested in tearing down the other queen cells. Could they be planning afterswarms? They very well might be since there was zero room for eggs. Every nook and cranny that didn't contain capped brood was full of honey. Though there was one partial comb near the front of the hive, but the bees seemed to have no interest in building that out. Weird.

New queen and queen cell

There were a couple of combs near the divider that had some room, so I moved them toward the brood nest. I doubt that will be enough to stop an afterswarm, but I didn't know what else to do.

At this point, her new royal highness returning from a mating flight is less of a concern than losing more bees. I'm going to check my lumber stash in the morning. If there's enough wood, I may make a nuc to split the queen cells out. If not, or if I still feel awful tomorrow, perhaps I can just cut the queen cells out.

All but one bar is fully drawn and full of honey, and she's started building on the last bar. I moved that bar nest to the brood nest but will check back soon for capped honey. Some combs might even get shifted to Buttercup because she needs space. On the plus side, though, there weren't any drone combs which usually indicate a prelude to swarming.

Peach has been bearding quite a bit lately, so it wasn't a shock (though it was a disappointment), to see a bit of collapsed comb inside.

Some collapsed comb

Peach was also full of honey, though there was some young brood as well. Also, her bees seemed busy building still, which kind of surprised me. In fact, except for Austeja, all of the colonies were drawing comb. Both last year and the year before, none of my bees drew much comb after the summer solstice. This must be a pretty good flow!

I made a top entrance by removing the spacer bar near the entrance. Hopefully, this will relieve some of the bearding and prevent more comb from falling.

Peach's new upper entrance

This hive is bouncing back nicely from her bear attack. The broken combs have been repaired, and while she doesn't have as many combs as I'd like to see, she's still building. Plus, the combs she does have are full of brood and honey. Mostly brood, still, though. The resilience of these creatures never fails to amaze.

Some construction

Elsa is doing beautifully. I can't remember how many combs she had... maybe 12 or so, but that should be enough to get through winter. She's also busy filling in with honey.

One interesting thing is that she seems to have gotten rid of most of the sugar syrup she stored over the last couple of months. In order to distinguish syrup from honey, I dye it blue or green and watch to see where it goes. This bar used to be full of syrup. Now there are only a few blue/green cells left.


My apologies for the lack of photos of the next two hives. An iPhone fits better into my pocket than a proper camera, but it won't let me take photos while wearing gloves. These two broads will take my hands off, so I opted for saving my skin over making memoirs.

The first thing that I noticed about her is that there was a small beard clustered on her back end where there shouldn't be any comb. On opening it, I could see a chain of bees building new comb -- behind the divider board, near the cluster. What?

With bravery born from a fully covered face, I stuck my head in the hive. I'm fairly certain I saw a queen back there, but she slipped under a pile of bees too quickly for me to get a good look. At first, I though it might have been a separate colony back there, but that wouldn't make sense. They'd have to go through the entire hive to get to the exit. I decided it must just be another queen. Contrary to what most people think, it's not uncommon for hives to have multiple queens.

Then I moved the divider, and wow! The bees had built all the way up to it, and there was capital-H Honey! Since Hippolyte began from a package this spring and really wasn't fed much except a few quarts in the spring, I never expected to see so much honey. She has 21 bars, all fully drawn and chockful of curing nectar. My plans for next year had included requeening her with a gentler bee, but seeing how prolific she is, if she survives winter, she may get a reprieve.

Since her bees seem so intent on building still, I added empty bars on either side of the one where I found the queen. She was running out of places to lay, and I figured they could build her some space. Hippolyte has also been bearding heavily, and a small piece of honeycomb fell off a bar while inspecting, so I opened a top entrance for her, too.

Hippolyte's beard a couple weeks ago

If this hive were a skep, it's the one I'd kill and ransack for its honey. She has 19 fully drawn bars of honey and brood as well as 2 partially drawn bars. That seems pretty good for a package, but I gave her about 7 or 8 combs, I think, when I hived her. I expected more from her. Maybe it's her shady location, I don't know. But she's not very productive and mean to boot.

The queen is laying, and the bees are adding a bit to the combs already in the hive. I decided against adding more bars since she's got tons of capped worker brood that should emerge soon. Time will tell if I made the right choice.

Lesson Learned

My big takeaway from today is about managing during a flow. You'd think I would have gotten this by now, but no, it takes time to bang things into this thick skull.

This is my third summer with bees. During the previous two, my bees wouldn't build for anything after the end of June. In fact, I had a hard time getting them to put on weight for fall, and I think I ended up feeding, at least a little, both years. I assumed this year would be the same because many local beeks have said that the fall flow just isn't what it used to be. Also, I didn't really feed during the dearth, so I thought the bees just hadn't built up enough to take advantage of the fall. This year, I again didn't feed most hives, and I figured they wouldn't have built up enough either. Maybe because I keep seeing mowed areas all over, I assumed the fall flow just wouldn't be great. As a result, I lulled myself into a false comfort and just haven't managed my hives enough during this flow. Now I know better. Every year is different.

If I'd done a better job with this flow, I might have been able to get quite a bit more honey. However, I think I should still be able to harvest a considerable amount. Even leaving 15 bars per colony, I may still be able to pull 10-15 bars. Each bar probably weighs at least 4 or 5 lbs, but estimating conservatively at 3lbs per bar, I could end up with 30-45 lbs of honey -- more than enough for me to overwinter on.

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