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).

Monday, May 1, 2017

How hot are my bees?

Invariably, there are two questions that new beeks unaccustomed to working with honey bees ask:

  1. Are my bees aggressive?
  2. What do I do with them?

It's important to know whether you have mean bees or simply defensive ones because pleasant bees will greatly enhance your enjoyment of the hobby. 

In evaluating your bees, be aware that there are certain things that will make even the sweetest tempered bees temporarily crabby. For example:
  • A dearth
  • Bad weather (rain, snow, cold, etc.)
  • Attacks from predators
  • Being relocated (e.g., shipped in a package or hauled in a vehicle)
However, if your bees temper doesn't improve within a couple of weeks, or if they get noticeably worse as their colony size increases, it might be time to re-evaluate.

With that said, as I was organizing some bookmarked pages, I found a chart that was very helpful to me a few years ago. However, there were a few lines that I felt were a little confusing or that I disagreed on. For example, I'm not sure that an aggressive hive automatically needs to be destroyed. Yes, drones from a nasty hive will spread their DNA, but from what I've read, some of the hardier races of bees tend to be a bit on the less workable side, so maybe they have something worth keeping in the gene pool. Also, I feel there is something of a sliding scale when it comes to aggressive bees. For example, I've had colonies that would swarm me, stinging as often as they could, for more than 100'. However, with enough layers of clothing, it was possible, sort of, to inspect them. They were definitely hot, but they weren't like the bees that cover every bit of your veil until you can't see. 

So anyway, here is my re-worked version of the chart. 

If you've had experience with aggressive bees, how have you dealt with them?