Sunday, May 23, 2010

Local club meeting

On Friday I did the hive inspections. It was hot and I decided to limit my inspections to a quick examination of the second stories and a refilling of the feeders.

If the first colony to start drawing comb in the second story is an indication of colony strength then Galway is outperforming Clare. This surprises me because Galway had always seemed a little behind Clare. Even the activity outside the hive had always seemed a little busier at Clare.

It was the Galway colony that was installed a few days after Clare because we had to wait for a new queen. But as of Friday, Galway had started work on the two middle frames of the second story and in Clare nothing had been done in the upper hive body. Still, both colonies seemed healthy and active. And the weather forecast indicates they should have plenty of opportunity to forage and strengthen in the week ahead.

On Saturday I attended our local beekeeping club meeting. We were supposed to be installing the club hive but the guy supplying the bees didn't make it. Apparently he had a graduation to attend. You'd think that would have brought an end to the meeting in very short order but it lasted for about 4 hours and was very informative.

The meeting was held at the home of two of our club members, Bob Grajewski and Sue Garing. The day and the setting were picture perfect.

We had an opportunity to do inspections of a number of Bob and Sue's hives. They had inserted drone frames in the hives as a trap for mites. The mites like to use the drone cells for breeding because drones take a few days longer to develop than worker bees. So frames are inserted with drone cells. The mites settle in to the drone brood. The beekeeper comes along and removes the drone frames and freezes them -- killing the mites (and yes, the developing drones -- but in the bee world drones are often expendable.)

Of course, before you can take the frames you have to remove the bees that are tending to them. An examination of this drone frame proved worthwhile in that the queen was spotted on it. She was gently removed by hand and lowered into the hive before the rest of the bees were given the shake down.

All in all, it was a very worthwhile meeting topped off by finding and capturing a swarm as the meeting was drawing to a close. When the club president just happened to notice the swarm of bees on a nearby bush it reminded me of a line from an old Chevy Chase movie: "Queue the deer." If you haven't seen the movie Funny Farm, check it out. Good flick. Anyway, this swarm seemed to show up at the perfect time as if on queue. It was a great finish to an eventful meeting.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

It was a long, cold week

I couldn't believe it when I awoke to snow on Sunday morning. There was no accumulation but it did leave a powder white coating on the roof of my house for most of the morning. The next few days were cold and windy and rainy. There was no chance for the girls to get into the field and do any pollen or nectar gathering until Thursday.

I was regretting not using pollen patties to supplement the syrup I was feeding them. In fact, I bought some pollen patties but it was so cold that I didn't want to open the hives to get it to them. Pollen patties are a mixture of real pollen and pollen substitute which provides the bees with some protein, vitamins and minerals. Normally of course, they'd get this naturally as a part of their foraging. And they won't eat the patties when the real deal is available.

I did end up cutting up a patty and setting a piece right at the entrance to each hive. I also reduced the hive entrance to keep the wind and cold out.

Things warmed up on Thursday and there was healthy amount of activity at the hive. Normally, I would have done my hive inspection then but because they had such a rough week I figured I'd give them a day to recover.

As I watched the activity at the hive entrance on Thursday and Friday it seemed like many of the bees were doing orientation flights. In orientation flights the bees seem to fly in circles around the front of the hive, orienting themselves to the landmarks which enables them to find their way home from foraging.

Of course, after all the lousy weather they were probably doing a combination of orientation and cleansing flights. In "cleansing flights" bees take short flights to "go to the bathroom." They can hold it for quite awhile which during the winter it is often necessary to do.

I can hear some curious kid asking so here's the rest of the story. Sometimes during the winter, if they don't get a day above 45 degrees for more than a month... well, when ya gotta go, ya gotta go. You know how it is. Right kid? Everything gets cleaned up and put back in order in the spring.

Anyway, back to Friday and the hive inspection. I think I must have been in shock on the previous inspection when the whole section of comb fell on top of the hive. I say this because when I opened Clare on Friday things were not as I had remembered them last week.

No work had been done in the new hive body I had added so I pulled that off and examined the lower section. It looked busy and healthy but the frames were not drawn as I had noted in my posting last week. Specifically, neither frames 1 nor 2 were drawn. Had the bees undone their work or had I imagined what they looked like last Thursday? I must have imagined it.

I'm guessing the bees must have devoted much of their attention to keeping the brood warm during the cold spell and not much attention to drawing comb. I'm also thinking that when I added the hive body and then the cold weather hit I had inadvertently isolated the bees from the hive top feeder. They'd have to move from the well developed and warmer lower hive body up through the undeveloped and probably quite cold 2nd story to the feeder on top. Not much syrup was consumed during the past week which suggests they had a problem getting to it.

The section of comb I had wired to an empty frame was intact and actively being worked by the bees. There was an abundance of capped brood but not much pollen or nectar. They may have been living off that for the past week.

Conditions in Galway were comparable to Clare: lot's of capped brood, little pollen or nectar and not much syrup consumed. It was a tough week for the bees.

Here's hoping for a nice stretch of warm weather and maybe next week we can catch catch the emergence of some new bees from all that beautiful capped brood!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Houston, we've had a problem

If you recall from our last episode, Clare had some issues with comb where the queen cage had been wedged between the frames. The comb was dangling from the top bar. I didn't remove the frame last week because it looked like the comb would fall right off. I thought the bees might repair it once I pulled the queen cage and in the interim I would seek out some expert advice.

I searched the books high and low, I searched the online forums. I came up empty. I decided not to bother any of the local beekeepers because we had our first stretch of nice weather and I knew they would have their hands full. Any help would most likely have required on site assistance because I didn't have any good pictures of the problem from my last hive inspection.

Today I went back into the hive to see what the bees had been up to. I was determined to get a good look at that problem frame and at least get some pictures so I could take them to a local beekeeper for a review.

At first glance it was obvious the bees had made great progress over the past week. The 8th frame (at the farthest edge of the hive body) hadn't been worked yet but the seventh was almost fully drawn (meaning the bees had built honeycomb cells on it for storing brood, honey, etc.) The 6th and 5th frames were fully drawn and had capped comb.

Then came the problem frame which should have been number 4 but in fact was 4 plus an extra as shown in the picture above. The bees had used the space created by the queen cage to build 2 sections of comb attached to the same frame.

As I slowly turned the frame to examine it closely the extra section of comb broke free from frame and landed on the top of the hive.

I was knee-deep in it now. No time to go hunting for experts. The bees had spent 18 days investing in this comb and the loss of that investment could doom the colony.

I decided the best approach would be to take the foundation out of the number 8 frame and try to attach this section of comb to the empty frame. I had wired the frame so if I could just press the comb into the wires it might support it well enough.

I hung the #4 frame on the support and went to work. I positioned the empty frame around the comb and pressed down but the wires were not penetrating enough so I put one hand under the comb and gently pressed upward. The bees on the underside of the comb were not particularly fond of my fingers pushing them and their comb and one of the bees let me know about it. My first sting while working in the hive. I barely felt it and continued on.

As I tried to bring the comb to an upright position in the frame it felt like it might break apart. I needed more support.

I ran down to the garage and grabbed a roll of framing wire to loop around the frame at a couple points to keep the comb in the frame. Then with the hive tool I trimmed off the excess comb at the bottom so that the bottom edge of the comb fit snugly on the bottom of the frame.

It looked pretty good or at least much better than I had found it. Hopefully my beginner's mistakes do not cost the colony too dearly.

So frame 8 was out and what was frame 7 became frame 8 as everything was shifted over. And the "extra" frame became frame 5. I was fortunate that frame 8 had not been worked and was available for this emergency because frame 1 at the other end of the hive had already been drawn. Otherwise, I would have had 9 frames in an 8 frame hive body.

There's plenty more to tell about today's hive inspection. I haven't yet touched on Galway but the good news is that the girls seem happy and they are doing what they are supposed to do even as I stumble.

Both Clare and Galway are doing well enough that I added a second hive body to each hive. Matt asked how tall they would get. Hopefully they'll get 4 stories high before the end of the season. The first 3 stories are for the bees. They need enough stores to make it through the winter. I can harvest the honey from frames in any hive body beyond those first 3 stories.