Thursday, August 25, 2016

Where's the Honey?

It's been 3 weeks since I checked the majority of my hives, so I figured a visit to the bee yard was in order. I skipped Peach & Buttercup since they got an inspection a couple of weeks ago, but everyone else received a fall checkup.

The good news is that everyone has a laying queen (at least the hives I inspected).

Good brood pattern in Austeja -- and this wasn't even the best comb of the day

The bad news is that there is very little honey. The goldenrod is blooming and beautiful, but with the exception of Celestia, there are no significant stores. I expect not to see honey in hives that have been recently queened (Peach, Buttercup), but not in hives that have been queenright and making bees prior to the start of our fall flow.

Some nice honey from Celestia

Some of the bars have warped quite a bit, and now there are thick ribbons of propolis.

This week, I had occasion to drive over to Bridgeport & Middlebury. Along the way, Japanese knotweed was looking pretty nice. Hopefully, it starts flowering here as well. However, folks all over the state are reporting an anemic fall flow and empty hives, so maybe feeding will become a necessity this year. Fortunately, I have some honey that I can use for that purpose.

The propolis is so thick it actually ripped the side off a couple bars when I pried them apart.
Yikes! That's some serious sticky!

Case Study: Swarm or Supersedure?

As an instructional designer, I love case studies. It's very easy to learn how to do things, but trying to do things in the real world where things never go according to plan? That's an entirely different story. The thing I like about case studies is that they use real (or realistic) events and force people to look at the big picture. Too often, I think people look at one or two details and freak out. If they took all factors and variables into consideration, they'd probably make better diagnoses.

One area that new beeks have trouble with is discerning between swarm cells and supersedure cells. If only the bees hung little signs or something on them that would make life so much easier! Since they don't, I thought I'd walk through a real-life scenario that I'm experiencing right now & explain my decision-making process.

One of the queen cells in Elsa. The others were at the bottom of the combs.

Elsa had four new queen cells today. Hmmm... What do I know, and what do these facts tell me? 

Let's start with the facts:

  • Elsa should have had a new queen start laying around Aug 15.
  • Aug 14, I didn't see any eggs during my inspection, so I gave her a bar of brood & eggs just in case her queen hadn't returned. 
  • Today, there was brood of all ages, including stick eggs.
  • The hive has plenty of combs, but not a lot of honey.
  • There were far fewer bees this week than 2 weeks ago.
  • Elsa was split July 20. She may have even swarmed around Aug 5.
  • There were 4 queen cells, which were located on 3 different bars -- 2 of them on the donated bar, 2 on other bars.
  • Not sure how old these queen cells are. They're not capped, so less than 8 days. They're more than cups & have fairly visible larvae, though. I'd put the larvae around 4-5 days from egg. Queens take 8 days from egg to capped cell, then 8 more days until emergence.
  • I did not see the queen.
Looking at the big picture, I'm betting this is a supersedure instead of a swarm. Here's why:
  • Swarming is a method of reproduction. Without a lot of honey or brood, these bees are not really set up to do that. The lack of bees could have been a swarm, but it's more likely due to attrition since they haven't had any replacement bees for awhile. 
  • When bees prepare to swarm, they make bunches of queen cells. Four just really isn't that many.
  • They were queenright within the past day based on the stick eggs. That doesn't mean that they couldn't still swarm in the next couple of days, or that they haven't swarmed since I last checked, but I doubt it.
  • If the bees had made a queen from the eggs I gave them on the 14th, I would not expect that queen to start laying until around Sept 6. The stick eggs in this hive tell me that they are queen right, and the queen emerged around Aug 5 -- she was made from that split on July 20.
  • The bees did not use the brood I gave them to make queen cells. They got those eggs/larvae 11 days ago. If they'd used an egg or young larva, the cell would have been capped already. Therefore, all the cells must have been started from eggs that the new queen laid. This tells me that they weren't feeling swarmy when I put the eggs in. Given that there are even fewer bees/resources now, I'm pretty positive they're not even remotely swarmy now.
  • Since they're queenright, I'm not going to worry about them making a queen, but I'll feed them since the brood she's laying probably won't be old enough in time to take advantage of the fall flow. 

So why are they superseding already? Looking at my notes, the current queen is an emergency queen, which frequently gets replaced. so that's not out of the ordinary. However, this is my 4th summer keeping bees, and I've never had the bees replace an emergency queen so quickly until this year. This year, has been an especially bad year for my queens, though. In addition to this being my second supersedure, I've lost quite a few queens on mating flights, which has also rarely happened to me before. Other people have told me that they've lost lots of queens this year, too, so I don't feel alone, but.... what the heck is happening? I guess that's the bigger picture that I'm wondering about.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Everyone's got babies

A couple months ago, my friend JB took a nuc from me. He invited me over this morning to see the bees. It was wonderful to see them doing so well.  Even though they're not mine anymore, I still think of them as my babies.

TBH made from the nuc I started. JB even made a split from them into the Lang.

Anyway, JB also generously gifted me with a zillion hostas. As I was digging them into the ground, a buzzing like the sound of a helicopter whizzed by my head. It turned out to be a cicada killer wasp. I love these bugs. Although they're quite large (about 2" - 2.5" long), cicadas are even bigger. Somehow, the wasps still manage to paralyze them and drag them home. I've even seen them flying dozens of feet up in the air latched onto their prey. Thank goodness they're not human-sized -- they'd be unstoppable.

Monday, August 15, 2016

2 out of 3

It's been so hot all summer that I considered ordering an evaporative cooling vest, but the weather has been so soupy that it probably wouldn't work. Instead, I've been trying to stay cool by limiting inspections to 4 hives tops. 45 minutes outside is about all I can take. Fortunately, at this time of year, we can get away with waiting longer between check-ups.

Yesterday, I took some quick peeks at Buttercup, Elsa, and Peach since those are the ones that were in the process of making new queens.

We have a queen and eggs! I even got to watch her lay one -- hooray!

This queen is a little smaller than I like, but she's dark, which I like a lot.

Did not see a queen or eggs. My notes say to check on 8/15 for eggs, so I was a day early. However, I'm not feeling optimistic since she was mad! It's natural for hives to be more defensive this time of year, but I've never smelled her angry like today. Just in case, I gave her a bar of brood from Bubblegum. If I see a queen cell next week, I'll have to give her a queen or combine since we're getting too close to winter.

I forgot to bring a pencil, so this photo is a reference just for me.
When I check next time, the bar marked "Flat" is the one I added.
Logic dictates that if I see queen cells, they would have to be on the bar I added,
but when I first open the hive, the photo helps me to remember just where I placed that bar.

The queen cell from last week is gone, and nothing has taken its place. There are eggs, too, so my guess is that she has successfully superseded. Excellent.

Do you see the queen near the bar?

With all but one hive queenright, next week's inspection will be a breeze -- well, maybe not in this humidity, but it will be short at the very least with only one colony to inspect.

On a completely unrelated note, we had a delightful Turkish couple over for mezedes the other day. Of course, they tried some of my honey from different seasons/times in the season. One of them caused the wife to exclaim, "This one tastes like Turkish honey!" They then proceeded to tell me that in Turkey, a pint jar like the one I had was extremely expensive -- about $200. I wasn't quite sure whether that was really $200 or 200 Turkish lira (roughly $70). Either way -- holy smokes! Of course, we had a good laugh when she volunteered to be my "mule."

To wrap up, goldenrod is still flowering, but there is a lot of new construction going on, and some of the fields that have a lot of goldenrod are being bulldozed. I want to move.

Meanwhile, I haven't seen any flowers on the Japanese knotweed. I could be wrong, but I usually think of knotweed blooming in late summer. Everything else has been 2 weeks early this year. Is the knotweed late or is it simply not going to bloom? It's been such a weird year that I don't know what to expect. These new queens could use the pollen and nectar, though, so fingers crossed for a good fall.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Two Queens

Two queens -- no, that's not a poker hand. It's how many queens I need.

Between splits and swarms and queens that haven't returned from mating flights, I've been on pins and needles most of the season waiting for eggs. (Btw, compared to seasons past, it seems that this has been a rather perilous year for queens. A lot of mine have gotten lost.) Finally, almost everyone is queenright -- once the last two are settled, I can rest easy.

The bees are nuts for the carrots that didn't get picked.
Another bee on a carrot flower. They even collect a bit of pollen from them.

I made a split from Elsa 2 weeks ago. The queen went to Bubblegum, and Elsa made a number of queen cells, which apparently emerged.  Today, there seemed to be considerably fewer bees in her, so she probably swarmed as well. Oh well. I'll check again in 10 days (Aug 15) for eggs.

This nuc has swarmed more times than I remember this summer, and she's lower on bees than I'd like to see. I had hoped for eggs today, but nope. Most likely she could get out because we got several days of glorious rain!!! The bees weren't "runny" the way they'd be if the hive were queenless, so I'll take that as a good omen. However, if she still hasn't any eggs in about 5 days, I'll have to decide whether to give her a mated queen or combine her.

She's made a supersedure cell, but I'm not going to sweat this one even though I've lost a lot of virgin queens this year. My past experience with supersedures is that the old queen sticks around until the new one begins laying. As a result, there is no brood break. Of course, if a new queen doesn't get mated, the old one could run out of viable eggs. But we've some time left before winter comes, so it's not a big concern yet.

On Monday, this colony was starting to make swarm cells, but I didn't want them to bail on me this late in the season. So I tried an experiment. I cut out all the queen cups and all but 3 or 4 swarm cells. Then I removed about 10 frames of honey/nectar (some of it got harvested, some was redistributed to other hives). I also added a lot of empty bars. Today, not a trace of any swarm cells was left. It appears the bees broke them down. Win!

Austeja, Persephone, Bubblegum and Celestia
All is well. Hooray!

Echinacea is a favorite this time of year
I used to wonder how bees found propolis until I saw this tree.
Apparently, it's not so hard. 

So now I have loads of honey again. Several people have offered to buy it, and still more have offered to be gifted. LOL

One thing I've noticed about crushing and straining is that it works pretty well if I'm doing only a few combs. Once I get more about 5 combs, though, there is a lot of honey that doesn't drain into my bucket. So I pulled out my cider press and pressed the crushed wax after it had already drained for about 5 days. Although I didn't measure the gleanings, I'd estimate at least 5-6 more cups of honey. Definitely worth dragging that heavy hunk of metal out of storage.

Most likely, I'll continue checking on Buttercup, Elsa, and Peach until I'm certain they're queenright, but I won't bother the others until the Japanese knotweed starts blooming. This break from the bees is perfect timing for enjoying the Olympics -- and some air conditioning.