Thursday, March 29, 2012

This makes gloomy reading!

Common crop pesticides have been shown for the first time to seriously harm bees by damaging their renowned ability to navigate home.

New research strongly links the pesticides to the serious decline in honey bee numbers in the US and UK – a drop of around 50% in the last 25 years. The losses pose a threat to food supplies as bees pollinate a third of the food we eat such as tomatoes, beans, apples and strawberries.

This article reinforces my views that big business isn't really interested in anything other than their bottom line, but it also shows how important urban bees will be to the survival of the honey bee in general and as a resource for the future.

Yes if there is research out there that can demonstrate that neonics are not harmful let it be published and scrutinized under peer review.  It is extremely worrying that the US and UK governments are so dismissive of the concerns.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Garden Bees

In contrast to the semi-organized chaos at home the bees at the Botanical Gardens are coming along very nicely, and so far predictably!  I went down to look through them today, and also to expand the hive.  When I left the hive a couple of weeks ago I left it with a single super under a single deep.  I had been hoping that the super would clear itself of brood as and when the queen moved up into the deep to start laying there. 

Well, she appears to have done as expected and there is plenty of brood in the deep, but there is also some brood remaining in the super.  So rather than disturb the brood nest and move the super and deep around I simply added the second empty deep to the top of the hive.  The bees will now have more room to expand into and I reckon I made this expansion at just the right time! 

In a week or so I will take a second super down to the hive and I will properly reorganize it.  I will move the super with brood to the very top of the hive and put the new empty super between the top deep and the top super.  As long as the queen is not in the super when I move it she should not cross into the new empty super from the deeps below.  Hopefully when I get to this stage I will be able to tell if I can split this hive.  I have some queens arriving on April 7th so I might take a nuc box to the gardens and put 3 or 4 frames in it! 

All in all the Garden Bees are looking good! 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Accidental Beekeeping and Artificial Swarms!

Some days everything you plan in your bee yard goes like clockwork, and everything you prepared for happens just as it should. At other times you muddle though and make the best of what you find, or make the best of what you did last time! Today was firmly in the latter category!!!

I am rapidly becoming an expert "Accidental Beekeeper". I thought I had planned so well last week and I managed to reduce the numbers of bees in one hive by moving a single deep from the strong WQH to the adjacent weaker AQH! I nearly gave myself a slap on the back for being moderately smart! Big mistake!!

I went through my AQH this afternoon in order to check on their progress (last weekend I added a deep of bees and brood from my WQH to strengthen this). I made certain the queen wasn't present, so I was pretty sure the bees would be growing in numbers in the hive. Yes, the number of foragers would be down but that would be compensated for by the number of young bees. Anyway I went through the hive and pretty soon found the queen. An unmarked new queen! Clearly I didn't transfer just workers and drones, but the queen from the WQH as well!  I think she must have disposed of the old white queen, and so now she has the hive all to herself. Still she has plenty if space to move into and with any luck the urge to swarm in this hive is now low!

Because of this "Accident" I was therefore very interested to see what chaos lay inside the WQH! Yes, there were still lots of bees, but more exciting (and I'm not sure if this is the best way to describe what I felt) I found loads of emergency queen cells AND swarm cells! On closer inspection one emergency cell had even recently hatched - I saw a neatly cut off, and still hanging cell cap.  A new queen was somewhere at large in the hive. I spotted her - still a virgin I think - as she was much smaller than a normal queen, but still with a distinctly pointed abdomen.

Of the other queen cells in the hive, some were empty (and not vital) and some were closed (but I didn't remove them just in case they might be needed!). So what to do? I thought about transferring some frames with queen cells to a nuc to start a new colony, but in the end I just closed up the hive and let the new queen go about her hopefully murderous and promiscuous business!

So what did I actually end up doing last week? Well I think in accidentally moving the queen to the weak AQH hive I made an artificial swarm. As they lost their queen, the bees that were left in the WQH hive made emergency queen cells, but before these could mature (it was only a week) one of the swarm cells that I must have overlooked in the inspection I did on the Wednesday before last weekend must have recently hatched.  This queen is I think the new virgin queen that is now roaming in the hive killing her sisters!

In a couple of weeks I will be getting some new queens.  By then I hope there will be clear signs that the virgin queen in the WQH has successfully mated and is starting to lay eggs. If not, then I'll consider putting a new queen in the hive.

Anyway when all is said and done by artificially swarming the WQH I may have controlled the urge of this hive to swarm and also, with luck, the presence of a strong laying queen in the AQH should stimulate this hive and cause it to gain strength!

Serendipity or what????  Oh! and I might have to consider new names for the hioves now!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

First Round of Manipulations Completed!

I had to dodge some rain, but I managed to complete the first round of inspections/manipulations on my hives today.  The development of all my hives is very advanced and all are doing better than I really expected (even the weak hive than came through the winter with an Autumn Queen).  The general concensus amongst beekeepers (I know, that's a bit of an oxymoron!) is that hives in the St. Louis area are about 1 month ahead of where they would nomally be after a normal winter.  We are in the middle of nectar flow NOW and I have had to add supers to the hives in odrder to make some space for the brood to to be laid and so fend of some swarming... more of that later.

There have been some issues and challenges to address and I hope I have managed to do this in such a way as to not upset the bees and therefore mess up the development of the colonies for the rest of the spring.

So this is what I found....

Autumn Queen Hive (AQH) - was the Blue Queen Hive:

This was the weakest of my hives to come through the winter. I requeened the hive in mid September 2011 and I was quite concerned that the new queen wouldn't have enough time to build up the numbers of bees in her colony to a sufficient level before the winter came.  But she did!

A week ago I reduced the AQH to a single deep but after looking though an  adjacent stronger hive I decided to take bees from this hive and add them to the AQH.  I did this on Wednesday.  I basically took one deep of bees from the stronger hive and added them to the single deep. It's a bit more complicated than that and I will address this in the discussion about the adjacent hive). Needless to say I did not just 'plonk' the new deep on the existing deep, I placed a sheet of newspaper between the deeps. But other than this I did no further manipulations.

There is a strong nectar flow on at the moment and I am concerned that the bees are filling the hive with this and therefore reducing the space the queen has for egg laying. I added a super to the hive and with luck the bees will move the nectar up to this super from the deep and generate some laying space.  The next time I am in the hive I will look at where the brood is and consider equalizing and balancing the frames out.  Perhaps tomorrow...

White Queen Hive (WQH):

This is the same White Queen Hive as last year.  The queen is now a year old and I will probably re-queen this hive in April.  The hive came through the winter very strong.  It overwintered in 3 deeps and that really seemed to help it's survival.  When I opened the hive for the first time I was really surprised to see how many bees were resident in all 3 deeps!  There are also frames filling with nectar (remember this is still March!) and I even found an open swarm cell.  I had to do something!

I decied to move a deep of bees to the adjacent AQH hive to strengthen this hive.  So last week I placed a queen excluder between the top two deeps of the WQH to help me locate where the queen was.  I looked, and I looked, and I looked for eggs in the top deep on Wednesday and I couldn't see any! So I moved this top box on to the AQH.  I did check the deep below the queen excluder to confirm there were eggs in this deep, but I couldn't see there any either!  I HOPE I have just moved a bees and not moved the queen as well! I will check tomorrow to see if I can see any emergency queen cells!  That will be a big clue.

If there are queen cells present I will simply keep going back into the WQH and remove them (and any subsequent ones) before I drop in another queen in about 3 weeks time.  Not ideal I know, but at least I will be controlling the numbers of bees in the hive and so controlling swarming!  It's all a bit ad-hoc though!

As well as reducing the bees in the hive it was very obvious that this hive contains a huge amount of nectar for the time of year.  Serious issue if the queen is laying in numbers (which she is)!  I added two supers on top of the now two deep hive just so the bees can move nectar away from the brood area and give the queen more space to lay in.

Clay Bees (formally the City Bees):

I managed to reduce the hive down into one deep last weekend.  There were about 4 frames of brood in the hive as well as pollen and nectar.  It is looking nicely set up.  But it still has a very defensive temperment.  It's not so bad if you only stand next to the hive, but as soon as you start to work the hive the bees become very aggresive.  I was working the single deep, got as far as the sixth frame and had to close the hive as I was being attacked and got stung twice.  Admittedly I was not in a full bee suit, but really ladies, this is spring and you're supposed to be all joyful and calm!  This hive will be requeened in April - no question!

Anyway, before running away I managed to throw another empty deep on the hive so this hive now has space for the queen to move into as well! Hopefully swarming tendencies are being controlled here too.

Garden Bees:

I checked the Botanical Garden bees for the first time today.  They overwintered in a single deep and a single super.  The super was left on last year as there was honey in it that couldn't really be harvested.  In hindsight this was a good decision (it happens once in a while!).  This hive looks lovely!  There was brood throughout the super as well as in a single deep frame.  I was fully prepared to add another deep to the hive but as there was adequate space available in the deep I just reversed the deep and the super.  I will go back in a week or so and I will probably add the second deep then.  If the brood is out of the super I may just move it up to the top of the hive and hopefully the bees will store nectar here.

All in all I am quite surprised this hive is so nicely balanced! I thought it was a bit light going into the winter and it didn't take on much syrup when offered!

If the weather allows I will go though AQH and WQH tomorrow to see what needs to be done here in terms of equalizing and swarm cells.  I will also remove the entrance reducers from these hives.

It's been an exciting week of beekeeping!  It's been good to get back in the saddle so to speak!

Monday, March 12, 2012

First Hive Manipulation

Finally the weather cooperated last Saturday - warm, dry and only little wind.  I took the plunge and worked through the two hives I have at home and the one just around the corner.  I hadn't been through these hives since the fall so I was interested to see what had been going on.
I started with my old "Blue Hive". This produced a large quantity of honey last year and went into the winter in two deeps. I lost the original queen in July and replaced her with a new "local" Illinois Queen in September.  I wasn't sure if she had enough time to bring the numbers of bees in the hive up to a sustainable level for the winter but as the bees had been active on warm winter days, I was happy enough although it wasn't really much to shout about!  When I opened the hive I found a small cluster of bees in the top of the top box.  I did see the queen and I saw that she is beginning to lay.  It's a bit of a slow start but a start.  There weren't too many stores and the bottom hive box was empty.  So I reduced this hive down to one deep and added some 1:1 syrup.
I moved on to my so called "White Hive". This went into the winter in three deeps and had been showing a great deal of activity throughout the winter.  Lots of bees out and about at any and every opportunity. Of late they had been really busy.  So I was expecting to see bees in the top box, perhaps the top 2 boxes, but to find them in all 3 deeps was very surprising and not a little alarming!  Fortunately I saw no queen cells but I did see a couple of queen cups being built.  Are they beginning to get out of hand?  I want to reduce the bees to two deeps but what is the best way?  Well, as the hive next door is a bit weak and could do with some bees I think it would be a good idea to donate a deep of bees to this hive.  Of course without their Queen! I stuck a Queen Excluder between the top and middle deeps and in a couple of days I'll go though the top deep to see if I can see any new eggs.  It's just too busy to spot the Queen! If there are no eggs then I can be pretty sure the queen is not in this deep so I can move the whole box over to the weaker hive. I'm not sure if I need to but I may put a sheet of newspaper between the two boxes just so the bees don't mix too quickly.  I'd hate for the new bees to kill the queen that's in there now, especially as she is a new queen.
Finally I went through my old City Hive. This had been moved not least because it was very defensive in its old location. I was expecting the bees to be more than a little weary of me but I was surprised.  They seemed quite calm!  I found about 3 frames of brood in the top box and some stores.  They look in good shape!  I nevertheless managed to reduce this hive to a single deep and will likely have to add a second in a week or so.  I think I may "store" the old deep above the inner cover just for now and allow the bees to do what they want.  The inner cover should stop the queen moving up into it.
So it was a pretty good day for looking at bees!  It's seems a long time since I looked to see what my girls had been up to! And it was nice to get back into a groove with them.  Oh, I think I will also have to come up with better names for the hives this year!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Ulster Observation Hive

This year's project arrived this week - An Ulster Observation Bee Hive. It's a nice compact, portable hive - basically a 5 frame nuc with an observation frame above it.

My plan, and hope, is to be able to take it to both my son's schools. It's design should enable me to leave it in the classrooms so the kids can look at it over an extended period of time and not just for a short period.

Move to the 'Burbs

I finally managed to organize myself and got round to moving my bees in the city out to a neighbours garden, just down the road.

Last night I went to the city hive, closed it up and locked the hive boxes together with hive staples. All the thumping on the hive stirred up some interest but it wasn't enough to get them too excited. Early this morning Fred and I moved them 'home'. It was all very easy. Clearly I'm getting good at this!

I left them to their own devices today but tomorrow I may drop a patty or some sugar mush on them, just to help them settle in. Hopefully they will like their new surroundings and their temper will improve!

It wasn't very warm today but Nevertheless I took the opportunity to get into my hives at home. To one hive (my Blue Hive from last year) I added a patty on top of the frames as well as a ring of sugar mush above the inner cover. To the other (the White Hive) i added just a ring of sugar mush as this hive appears stronger.

When it's warmer I will do some organizing of the hives; a bit of equalization. Hopefully I can reduce the hives down into single or at most two boxes! I can then clean up the empty boxes!