Wednesday, May 29, 2019

You win some, you lose some...

Roughly two and a half weeks ago, I tried splitting Katya with just a divider board in the hive, but I failed miserably. When I checked a week later on May 18, the bees had failed to make queen cells. It turns out the transfer frames had some small gaps at the top & the ventilation spaces at the ends of either side of the hive meant bees were just going back and forth.

On May 18, Katya was pretty full to bursting. Knowing she was going to swarm, I ordered two more hives. I was hoping they'd arrive within a week, but alas, they did not. On the next check (May 25), Katya was full of capped swarm cells. They probably swarmed on Sunday when we were at the movies. Those sneaky bees must have started making queens pretty much right after I'd closed the hive because I hadn't even noticed any queen cups on the 18th. Yikes!

queen cell

Theodora was looking like she was going to start making swarm prep, too, but without those new Layens hives, I decided to make a "shook swarm" into a TBH nuc rather than lose another swarm. Of course, now I'm on edge because I haven't got any queens in either of the Layens hives. Fingers crossed.

So I lost some bees, but I also caught a small swarm last week.  My daughter came along, and she did a great job getting those bees into a nuc. The bees were in a shrub in a condo complex, which meant lots of people walking by to stop and watch. My social butterfly of a girl was in her element teaching everyone about bees and passing out drones for them to hold. Yay! She's my queen bee-in-training!

small swarm

my bee charmer catching a swarm

Meanwhile, the spring flow is fully underway. Locust trees and wild raspberries are blooming. Clover is everywhere. While out walking last week, I also found a small mulberry tree on my property, and can't wait for it to grow!

wild raspberries

rolling in clover

Monday, May 6, 2019

And then there were three...

On Saturday, both hives looked like they were prepping to swarm soon -- backfilling with honey and making loads of drones on both ends of the hive. Normally, I'd wait at least a week before opening the hives again, but our forecast calls for rain all week, and I wanted to avoid them making swarm cells.

In the past, I've always postponed splitting until the bees started making swarm cells, figuring that's when the were ready to swarm. However, during my last season in CT, I came to the realization that I always ended up making multiple splits (way more than I wanted) just to prevent afterswarms. Also, due the size of my hives, they'd generally start making queen cells in June sometime, too close to the end of the spring flow, so feeding them became a necessity. Hearing Sharaskin talk helped me better understand when splits should occur in relation to the flow (which is when they would happen if my hives were only 40L in size). (BTW, other good indicators for timing splits are the presence of drones/drone comb, when the days are reliably warm enough for the queen to fly, and the danger of freezing is past.)

Another reason I had always postponed splits was to get the nicest, fattest queens from the swarm cells. Then I noticed something in one of my hives during that last year in CT. One of them had trouble making a mated queen. She'd make queens, but they wouldn't come back. I kept giving her eggs, though, so she kept trying until she finally made the smallest, most pathetic emergency queen you ever saw. Seriously, she was so small she could slip through the fingers of a queen clip. She laid eggs, though, which was all the bees needed to make a supersedure queen, who was every bit as nice as one from a swarm cell because she was raised for that job starting from Day 1.

As a result, I've decided not to wait for swarm cells and that an emergency queen is ok for awhile. As long as she's mated and laying, the bees can create a new queen later, and I can take advantage of the peak flow for splits. Also, bees generally wait for their supersedure queens to start laying before they, er... call for the reigning monarch's abdication. That means there are usually two queens in the hive laying simultaneously for while. It also means that there's no downtime in terms of brood production while waiting for the supersedure queen to start up.

I found Katya's queen and some worker eggs/larvae, so she got a divider board down the middle. Hopefully, she'll have a new laying queen sometime between May 25 and June 9.

When I installed the bees, I put them in the center of the hive -- like you'd do with a Goldstar TBH. The idea was to get the foragers used to both entrances so that when I was ready to split, they'd naturally go to one side or the other and keep the population even-ish. The branches over the entrances should force them to reorient tomorrow. I have to go out and prop the left branch up. Will do it later, though. They weren't happy with me messing around and kept darting into my hair.

However, there weren't enough eggs/worker larvae in Theodora to make me feel comfortable about them raising a new queen.  It was all capped brood and drone comb. I don't know if this will work, but I popped two empty frames between the worker brood combs) to see if I could get some eggs for raising a queen. Fingers crossed. Maybe by next week I can split them as well.

Holy moly. I have to get cracking on some new hives!

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Back in Bee-siness

I've decided to resurrect this blog because a lot has happened in the past year, and it's time to get on with things.

In the past year:
  • We've gotten a new dog. Despite all my protestations, the DH and kids won that battle. Even if I don't want an indoor pet, Experiment 626, uh, Oona, is admittedly the sweetest dog we've ever had. As my son says, you've gotta be careful, or she'll drop-lick you. "Aggressively affectionate" is the term my DH uses.
  • My husband started a new job in NJ.
  • We sold our beloved home in our beloved CT. 
  • We also purchased and moved into a new home in Buck County, PA, and with that, pretty much everything is new. We're starting from scratch all over again in every area of life you can imagine -- new friends, new schools, new activities, new doctors, new dentists, new...  you get the picture.
You can tell she's a Briard because her tongue is always hanging out in pictures.
Seriously, Google photos of briards.

The yard at the new house is the most boring thing you've ever seen -- absolutely zero landscaping except for a row of evergreens left around the perimeter of the yard. Looking at it, the father in My Big Fat Greek Wedding comes to mind. I just think, "Is no work... Is dry like toast...No honey. No jam. No nothing."  Since my DH disapproves of my garden design techniques (e.g., see a blank spot, put something in it), over the winter we hired a permaculturist who specializes in food forests to draw up a plan for us. This year, I'm focusing primarily on the orchard area in front of the house and the landscaping around the front walk (top left area in the image below). I began implementing the design about a month ago, and so far I've planted about 25 trees and shrubs. My muscles are rebelling, and yet, more trees and plants are coming. Whoo boy.

The future look of our yard.
This is just the big stuff. The design document has underplantings too.
I'll be busy until I die.

Transitioning to Layens hives has been a consideration for awhile, and this spring, I finally made the plunge. After several years of use, my TBHs were looking in need of repair, and during the move, all of them suffered some kind of damage or another. Although I'll eventually get around to repairing them, this seemed as good a time as any to start a Layens hive (or two). 

The TF community in this PA feels smaller than in New England -- or maybe I just don't have enough connections yet. But finding desirable bees here was a little tricky since I wanted a trifecta of bee characteristics:
  • Cold hardy 
  • Local 
  • Treatment-free
Luck was on my side, though. Adam, my permaculturist, recommended a call to Mike Schmaeling, the beekeeper at the Rodale Institute. The Rodale Institute is a large experimental organic farm in Kutztown, PA, and after a two-hour call with Mike back in January, I could tell we had similar philosophies when it comes to management and treatment (or rather lack thereof). Also, his original stock came mainly from local swarms and from his mentor, Kirk Webster. He's been keeping TF bees for about 5 or 6 years now, rearing queens and making splits. All the nucs he sells are splits started the year before, which is cool because they have queens that have proven they can overwinter, and they're bursting at the seams when spring arrives, ready for splitting. Cost-wise, they are about the same or fractionally more expensive than regular nucs started in the spring with imported queens -- but still extremely reasonable. Besides, to me that slight increase is worth paying for since his bees represent that Holy Grail of beekeeping.

Box of bees from Mike

So about a week ago (4/27), I installed two 10-frame nucs into my new Layens hives -- Empress Theodora and Yekaterina Vyelikaya (i.e., Catherine the Great, whom I simply refer to as Katya. How disrespectful is it to call a Tsarina by her diminutive?)

Leo sold me his transfer frames pretty inexpensively because they weren't "nice."
He described them as "work farm-truck equipment" haha.
I don't care. Quick and dirty works for me.

As much as I would've liked to, I didn't build the hives. About a month before the bees arrived, my DH had a medical procedure, and he had a rare, but severe and potentially fatal reaction to one of the drugs that was administered. He was laid up for a couple of weeks, and though he's back to work now, he's not yet fully recovered. In the interest of time and expediency, I ordered hives from Dr. Leo Sharashkin, who was also kind enough to agree to sell me his remaining transfer frames, too. That was a life-saver because traveling back and forth to Philly every day (about a 75-90 min ride each way), I just didn't have the time to build anything. Heck, we still hadn't even unpacked the garage.

Although, the dandelions have just ended (weird for me -- PA seems about 2 weeks ahead of CT in terms of bloom times), lots of other things are coming into season. There seems to be a particular abundance of autumn olive in the area. In any case, the bees have been busy bringing nectar and pollen into the hives.

I think this is an autumn olive seedling coming up.

Yesterday marked 1 week in the hives. In that time, each colony has built out about 2/3 of 2 Layens frames and about 1/2 of 2 more Layens frames. It's all drone comb, and there were a few drones about in the hives. If we get a break in the rain this week, I'll split them. Even though I don't have more hives at the moment, I have managed to make some divider boards, and 2 colonies can share a box for awhile -- probably even until next year if it comes to that.

Nice comb. 

So that's the news. I'm back in bee-siness.