Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Back on Track

One full week and nary a drowned bee. I've converted the feeders in both hives to a homemade setup based on something I read from another beekeeper in a beekeeping forum. The new method of feeding allows me to check the feeders every day without disturbing the hives.

Galway is thriving. Four of the third story frames are already drawn. I could be adding a fourth story by the end of next week. When I do add the fourth story, I will pull the feeder from that hive because that level will be for storing honey for harvest.

Clare is a different story. It is not thriving, rather it seems to be merely surviving. It still has only 4 frames of the second story drawn. The bees seem to have stopped drawing new comb and are simply reusing existing frames. There was capped brood and larvae. I'd like to say whether or not there were eggs but my eyes are still having a tough time picking them up.

I did not see the queen but I wasn't really looking for her. Rather, I was looking at the brood pattern, pollen stores, and general condition of the frames. There were no queen cells on any of the frames and the bees seemed calm enough but things just didn't seem quite right.

Now that I've got the feeder issue squared away I'm going to give them a bit more time and see how things go. Clare had the bad drowning problem and they may need more time to recover. Up until the drowning issue both hives were performing almost identically.

I'm going to ask around and see if I can get an experienced beekeeper to help me with the next inspection of Clare. There may be some things I can do to give the colony a boost like grabbing a frame or two of brood from Galway but I'd prefer getting insight from someone more experienced before taking that action. I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Feeder woes continue

The good news is that the colonies continue to grow. The bad news is that bees continue to drown in the hive top feeders.

I was quite discouraged on Friday when I opened Clare and found many more dead bees in the hive top feeder. I decided to pull both the feeders and come up with a system which would not allow pooling of the syrup to occur.

In one hive (Galway), I used the baggie approach but set the baggie directly on the frames as shown in the picture above. The bees feed through a slit cut in the top of the bag. I have read much information on this technique and it is supposedly quite reliable. Still, it makes me uneasy because it seems that if enough bees were on the baggie they could weigh down the edge of the slit and pooling could occur in the center of the baggie. I am lifting the cover of the hive once a day to check and make sure this has not occurred.

I am far more comfortable with the approach I used in Clare which was to place entrance feeders directly on the frames. The entrance feeders use mason jars with small holes drilled in the lids. The surface tension of the syrup offers little droplets of syrup through these holes which the bees feed on. The syrup does not leak because there is no venting of the jar, thus a vacuum is created.
Even if these feeders were to leak there would be no place for the syrup to pool, rather it would run down through the frames and out the screened bottom of the hive. And refilling these feeders is simple -- just swap out the jars.

Entrance feeders, as the name suggests, are designed to be used at the entrance to the hive. But when used at the entrance the syrup sits in the sun which shortens the life of the syrup. And you can only feed so much with just one feeder at the entrance. Also, these feeders have been known to encourage robbing when used as designed.

Putting the feeders inside the hive overcomes these issues. I say this as if I am an expert on the topic -- but my expertise, as evidenced by my frustrations so far with feeder problems, comes mainly from what I've read in books, forums and online articles. I'm developing a healthy skepticism about what I read. I'm tending toward using frequent visual verification of what should be happening. I'll let you know how it goes.

If the entrance feeders perform up to expectations then I will switch Galway over to them as well. I'll have to place an order for a few more feeders and lids before I can make that change.

With the new feeding techniques, I've added an empty hive body to cover the feed. I wasn't ready to be doing this so the hive bodies were not painted. I'll paint up a few and replace them.

On the plus side, I added a third story to Galway this week. I'd probably be doing the same for Clare if I had not drowned so many bees there. Things look good in both hives but Galway is coming along more quickly. More good news -- things are blooming all over the meadow. There is heavy clover and the rains have been coming soft and nicely spaced keeping things well fed without disturbing the bees foraging too much. I'm hoping things really begin to take off.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Feeder troubles

When you're just getting a colony established you need to feed the bees regularly to give them the resources they need to build all the new honeycomb for their new home in addition to all their regular activities of brood raising and honey producing. They could do it on their own with what they gather naturally but they may not develop the hive fast enough to be strong enough to survive their first winter.

What do you feed the bees? It's a simple syrup made from equal parts of water and granulated sugar. There are many methods for delivering this syrup and I've been through 3 of these methods in the last few days.

Up until Friday I had been using a hive top feeder on both the Clare and Galway colonies but over the last couple of inspections I started finding dead bees in Clare's feeder. There was no problem in Galway and the feeders are identical.

When I first saw the dead bees in the feeder a few weeks ago I thought I might have left the upper entrance to the hive open and that a robbing situation had occurred. Robbing is when bees try to steal honey and/or syrup from another colony which results in fights to the death as the bees defend their stores.

That could have explained the first instance but I wouldn't have left the upper entrance open again immediately afterward. Still, last Friday when I inspected Clare there were hundreds of dead bees in the feeder. In Galway there was only one. It seemed Clare's bees were drowning in the syrup. Something had to be done.

I tried using an entrance feeder but after a day it seemed it was leaking which would attract unwelcome visitors to the hive. So today I tried something different: a Ziploc storage bag filled with syrup. The bag rests in the feeder. I cut a slit on the top of the bag so that the syrup rises up to the slit but is still contained in the bag. The bees stand on the baggie and the slit acts as a trough for serving up the syrup.

We'll see how this technique goes. I'll check the hive on Friday and let you know.