Friday, May 28, 2010

All Hail the New Queen

Without a queen in Pink's hive, thing were going to get ugly. I needed to get a queen and get a queen fast. Luck was with me when George O'Neil of Autumn Morning Farms had a New England breed queen available. He delivered this package to Mary Duane, my friend and mentor. Mary works at a high school and the kids took a look at the bees under the 'scope. All the wings, legs and other bits were intact.
This is a picture of her before I set her in the new hive. She is at the top of her queen cage with a worker just under her. You can see how a young queen is very similar in size to a worker. The more eggs she lays, the bigger she will get.

I carefully placed her queen cage on top of the bees to gage their reaction. I was looking for curiosity and not aggression. If they became aggressive that would imply there was already a queen and either she's a virgin or she's just returned from her mating flight. Either one of these scenarios would explain the lack of eggs.

Bees were curious...

really curious...
and before I could snap another picture, they covered her cage, I put down the camera, and grabbed her! My fear was that they were going to ball her. Essentially that means the bees cover her cage and suffocate her.
I made a quick call to Mary who came over. We enacted the same steps and then Mary (my expert!) called Ken Warchol (our local bee inspector and her expert!). Ken had a great suggestion - put her in the hive for two days but leave her cage so that the bees cannot release her or harm her. Reassess at that point and remove her if they are aggressive toward her or release her if they are calm.
Having a plan helped me relax. Having Mary there helped too. We watched the bees' behavior and they seemed focused but not aggressive.
I have a good feeling.
And a name for her. I'll tell ya in two days if she makes it.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Colony Collapse Disorder

Looks like finally there is some glimmer of understanding of Colony Collapse Disorder. At a recent scientific meeting it was revealed that the interaction of two pathogens, one a fungus and the other a microbe, might be responsible for killing bees.

While understanding of the causes of CCD has been a huge challenge, treating it maybe even more challenging.

CCD is not much of an issue for hobby beekeepers like me. I treat my bees for the microbes as do most other beekeepers. So what is different about commercial beekeepers? Commercial beekeepers move their bees around, often feed them sugar water, feed them a single nectar source, and let the temperatures in the hive fluctuate. This stresses the bees significantly and we know what our immune system is like when we are stressed - it doesn't work well.

Food for thought.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The good, the bad, and the down right terrible

The good:
Sun is rocking. Her hive is just humming along so well I gave them a new honey super. That is a box for people honey. I only took a through the top two boxes, but that is all I needed. There were a few queen cups - indicating a desire to swarm. This is totally normal for this time of year and there were no eggs in any of them. So the bees are just planning for a rainy day.

They are still using the back door entrance so checking on them is always a challenge. I have to stand somewhere but it is always best not to stand in front of an entrance to a hive. Where do I stand if they use the front AND the back!?

The bad:
Joy still has some larvae in the top honey super that have not emerged so I cannot get another super on them yet. I did get to see some really adorable eggs and larvae in the brood chamber - where they belong. They do have about six cells of capped honey and lots and lots of near honey. With the awesome weather coming up this week I am confident that they will cap more honey.

The down right terrible:
Pink is gone.

It was clear something was amiss in the hive. The smell was wrong and there is very little pollen coming in. I couldn't find eggs or even young larvae. The bees are filling up the brood chamber with honey and they are wicked productive, let me tell you. I could barely lift the brood chamber it had so much honey.

What ever happened was a surprise to the bees because there is no supercedure cell. That is the way a hive usually makes a new queen - they start a queen cell in the middle of a frame. I looked carefully and found nothing even close to a supercedure cell.

This leaves me with two choices 1) give them some eggs from one of the other hives and let them make a new queen or 2) buy a mated queen from a local beekeeper.

Given that there are still a boatload of bees in the hive and they are still fairly calm I am leaning toward buying a new queen from the same dealer I purchased Red, Pink's mom three years ago. I hate to loose too much time just before the peak of nectar flow.

I am really quite sad to see this line end. I have always loved belonging to Red and Pink. They both had a real gentle streak that made me so happy to be a beekeeper.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Joy's hive

Now looking at this, you'd think it would be clear to me that her laying pattern is upside down. This was taken at the beginning of April, before I put on the darn honey super. You can see the patch of brood, or baby bees, as the light tan in the middle. This is surrounded by yellow pollen and there is nectar on the corners.
If you flip this over, it is a great pattern. Joy is so her own girl!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Still learning

I checked on the girls today and they look great. It looks like the skunk guard got tipped as some point recently and something (possibly black and white) was biting or scratching Sun's hive. The bees have a funny bottom board that they like to use as a back door entrance. I think this is why the beastie was bothering the girls in middle. Given that they are New England bees, that is no surprise - no one around here seems to actually use their front doors!

Joy is teaching me yet again that she knows how to be a bee better than I know how to be a beekeeper! I put honey supers on all the hives a couple of weeks ago. Joy's bees had done nothing on the bottom super so I expected that the honey super would be merely a plaything for them for a while. Alas no. The wax on the bottom super needs to be cleaned out - dead bees, bits of wax, and other detritus litters the frames.

They are either being lazy or just don't like that wax because Joy decided to lay eggs in the honey super frames! Grr. I don't like using a queen excluder between the brood boxes and the honey supers as I don't think the bees like to go thru them and I get less honey. Nonetheless, I put one on today - after assuring myself that she was in the brood box. (She is a really pretty queen!)

Pink's hive is doing beautifully. I could watch her bees all day long. Pink's laying pattern looks like not only did she read all the books, she probably wrote them! We have our first capped honey cell - yep - cell singular! Her hive smells so good - all business and wax.

It was a great check - and my smoker stayed lit the whole time!