Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Inspection with Mr. Waller

Mr. Waller starting the inspection.
Yesterday was our inspection with Mr. Waller. He lives in the area and happens to be one of the WI State Apiary Inspectors. If you recall, I called him and we set up the inspection because A. and I believed the Yellow Triangle hive to be queenless and thought the Blue Triangle hive had a crappy queen. Turns out we are 1 for 2.

First off let me express how grateful I am that Mr. Waller was able to come out to look at the hives on pretty short notice. He’s a busy guy and he really knows his stuff. It was very enlightening for me to watch someone else with so much experience go through our hives and reaffirm what I thought was good and show me some other things I can do to make the colonies better. It was also amazing to watch him swing the supers off the hive like they didn’t weigh anything. The honey supers are small but they are pretty heavy. No way can I swing two supers around like that. I have a hard enough time moving one around at a time. Just incredible!
He just whipped both of those supers off the hive
in one fell swoop!

Without further ado, here are the results of the inspection:

The Blue Triangle hive does indeed have a crappy queen. However, Mr. Waller believes that it’s not a matter of poor genetics but more likely a matter of her not having mated well. We have several options on how to deal with this. Since the genetics don’t seem to be in question we have a good chance at getting a good queen if we kill the current queen and let the hive make a new one. Another way to go would be to order a new mated queen and then requeen the hive with the new queen. A third direction would be to keep this queen through the winter and then requeen in the spring by either purchasing a new one or letting the hive make a new one then. Decisions, decisions….

Remember I said we were 1 for 2? That’s right, excellent news! The Yellow Triangle hive is not queenless! Either the colony made a new queen and she started laying over the weekend or more likely, I just missed seeing the eggs on the last inspection. They can be really hard to see in the dark comb. Either way, it didn’t take Mr. Waller very long to spot both eggs and brood so we’re good! Yay!

Can't see them but there is brood in this frame! Yay!
Now back to one of our other issues. Both of our hives are almost honey bound. Mr. Waller was quite impressed with the amount of honey in our hives and suggested that we spin out some of the frames as soon as possible so that our queens have somewhere to lay eggs. In the mean time he reversed some of the frames (turned them 180 degrees so that the empty side of the frame is now in the center of the hive) and he swapped some of the frames between hives so that the busier hive has more stuff to work on. Thankfully, the Dunn County Bee Club (which we joined this year) has a club extractor that we can rent time on to spin out some of our frames and I’m currently working towards getting an appointment set up. Also, my brother-in-law’s father used to keep bees and mentioned at my niece's birthday party that he still has the extractor and we could pick it up and use it. So I’m working on that too. Time to read up on extracting...

Honey, honey everywhere!
Mr. Waller also told us that I’ve got the honey supers set up wrong. Since we’re working on drawing out blank foundation, I should have left all 10 frames in the supers rather than taking one out. This would explain why my honey supers look all wonky. They had too much space and drew some frames way out and left others blank. We were able to fix the supers that we put on recently and Mr. Waller suggested that we harvest the 1st supers which are basically full up. In other words, we have a lot of honey!

The only slightly dim spot in the whole situation is that we scratched open some drone brood and discovered that we’re going to need to treat for varroa mites this fall. Not that we weren’t expecting to do that anyway really but it’s still a tiny bit disappointing to have it confirmed this early in the year. Oh well, chin up.

So there you have it. We’re sitting in a good spot. We have a few decisions to make and some “chores” to do but I’m happy with where our hives are at. See you next time!
A happy inspector makes for a happy beekeeper! Thanks for coming to inspect
the hives Mr. Waller!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Long Time Coming

Ok, ok, ok. I know, it’s been a long time since the last blog post. Put away the pitch forks and torches, I’m back. So, obviously a lot has happened since the last post. Here’s a few of the highlights:

Second brood boxes on.
Second brood boxes were put on in the beginning of June. We removed the hive top feeders at the same time since they had stopped taking the syrup. This means that they were finding plenty of nectar sources outside.

We tried to do a smokeless inspection. Long story just didn’t work. Neither of us got stung but without the smoke I couldn’t “suggest” that the bees move off of the burr comb so I could scrape it off. This made the inspection take much longer than it should have and I think I may have injured more bees. Why bother trying smokeless you ask? Because there is a faction of beekeepers out there who believe that smoking the bees actually sets back their production by 3-4 days. We thought we’d try it, we failed.

During a different inspection, A. got stung in his hand a couple times. He’s been getting more involved with inspections recently and he accidently squashed a bee under a frame when putting it back in the hive. They weren’t happy about it and told him so by stinging. This also happened to be another smokeless inspection because we forgot the smoker at home. We’ve since learned our lesson. That ended up being a truncated inspection because of the stings and angry bees. I’m still going gloveless so I can feel what I’m doing better and have yet to be stung (knock on wood) A. has started wearing gloves again.
A. inspecting the hive.

We’ve switched over to the solar fencer full time. Thankfully, there haven’t been any more signs of bear nearby which is really good because I’m not sure that our fence would dissuade the sufficiently determined bear. A. accidentally turned on the fencer while I was putting the gates back together once. I got shocked but it wasn’t any worse than the shock you would get from dragging your feet on the carpet for 2 minutes in the dead of winter and then touching someone else or a metal surface. (Yes, I know this from experience.) We may need to look into a more powerful fencer for next spring when the bears are around again.

I made my own inspection form to help me keep better records. It’s pretty snazzy if I do say so myself and I also like that I can customize it for different hive set ups since A. and I have been talking about starting a couple more hives at another neighbor’s house next year.

We’ve discovered that one of A.’s neighbors has a migratory beekeeper that places 125 hives or so on his land for a few weeks every summer. Unfortunately, this is bad news for our bees as now our bees are competing for resources with those 125 hives that are about a half mile away. Sadly, this also means that our bees are more likely to have other issues too, like increased varroa mites, more exposure to other diseases, and pests that we shouldn’t have problems with like Small Hive Beetles (SHB). During one of our inspections we found SHB in both hives. We made our own traps with marginal success and they seem to have decreased though the traps didn’t work as expected. Generally speaking, SHB shouldn’t be an issue for us because we’re located in northern Wisconsin and the beetles and larvae aren’t able to withstand our cold temperatures during the winter. Oh the joys of migratory beekeeper neighbors. However, this may be an ongoing issue for us.
Hives with two supers on.

Beginning an inspection.
Both hives now have two honey supers on. The colony in Yellow Triangle Hive is going gangbusters socking away honey and for good reason(but bad news) which I’ll get to in a second. The colony in Blue Triangle Hive is holding their own but not quite as vigorous which has been the case all along. It seems that the Yellow Triangle Hive is our proverbial Hare and the Blue Triangle Hive is our proverbial Tortoise.

Now that everyone is all caught up, let’s get into the recent happenings. So, inquiring minds want to know, why is the fact that Yellow Triangle bees are socking away honey like there’s no tomorrow bad news? It’s bad news because they are queenless and have nothing else to do. We discovered this two weeks ago as we were doing an inspection. About halfway through the brood boxes we realized that we hadn’t seen any eggs yet. We sped up the inspection to look only for eggs or the queen and found neither. We had been destroying queen cells (of which there were a few) up to that point for fear of swarming. Thankfully we realized what was going on before we took out all the queen cells or we would have been in real trouble. We left some queen cells intact and closed up the hive as quickly as we could so as not to screw something up any further.
Queen cell with an open end. In the hive the open end would be down.

We went in again this weekend to see if we had any evidence of a laying queen and still found none. Unfortunately, now we’re in a bit of a predicament. With no brood to feed the bees have nothing to do but gather and store so they’ve been backfilling the brood chambers with honey and pollen. This means that even if we did have a laying queen, she wouldn’t  have anywhere to lay eggs. We aren’t even sure that we have a virgin queen at this point. Just in case, we swapped a frame of eggs from the Blue Triangle hive with a fully capped frame of honey from the Yellow Triangle hive (which is another issue I’ll get to in a minute) so that we don’t end up with laying workers. For those who are wondering, the problem with having laying workers is that they only produce drones because they’ve never mated and end up laying more than one egg in a cell. Having laying workers is just a mess that I don’t want to deal with.

Full deep frame of capped honey. This is about 5 lbs of honey.
The problem with taking eggs from the Blue Triangle hive is that we’ve also discovered that the Blue Triangle hive’s queen is crap. She doesn’t have a good laying pattern and is laying more drone brood than I’d like to see at this time of year. If the Yellow Triangle hive tries to make a queen with the Blue Triangle’s eggs, we are continuing the genetic line of the crap queen, which is not what we want. The other issue is that because the Blue Triangle queen is a crappy layer, their population is not what it should be so we’re decreasing the population they could have by stealing eggs.

So what do we do about all of these issues? Well, we have a few options. 1) We could requeen both hives (Requeen means to kill the old queen and introduce a new one) if we can find new mated queens. At this time of year it can be a bit problematic to find new queens but if we can, then we still have time to build up both hive’s populations before winter. 2) We could combine both hives into one super strong hive and ride out the crappy queen until spring and then requeen when more queens are available. 3) Keep the crappy queen in one hive and call it quits on the other. Let them die out or abscond and then harvest all the honey to either feed the existing hive over winter or eat it ourselves. Needless to say, I would prefer option 1 so I called the state apiary inspector, who happens to live in our area and has spoken at a couple of the bee meetings we’ve been to, to see if he had any queens we could buy. He has quite a few hives of his own and has successfully overwintered 90% of his hives on a yearly basis so his genetic stock is also pretty good. He was going to take a look and asked me to call him back Monday morning. I called him and he’d like to come take a look at the hives to see exactly what we’ve got going on so we set up an appointment for Tuesday afternoon. I guess we’ll see what happens. In the mean time we need to spin out some honey either way so that our existing queen and the new queen, if we get one, have somewhere to lay eggs.

Until then, here’s a couple of pictures from the recent goings on:
Building burr comb and filling it with honey. What a mess! Albeit a tasty mess.

Smoking and scraping.

Now this is a beautiful frame. This was from late June in the Yellow Triangle hive.

Finally scraping off that wonky comb in the Blue Triangle hive. Here is A. peeling it off the frame.

Filling up the honey super. This was the day the Blue Angels were in town practicing for the air show. Hence my ear plugs.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Catching Up

Yes, I know. It’s been about two weeks since my last post. Sorry about that, life’s been busy. To make up for it, I’ll do an extra long post this time and catch everybody up to what’s been happening at the bee yard. So, first let’s recap a bit. In the last post we had some issues, I couldn't find the queen in Blue Triangle hive, there were a couple queen cups on the frame with rejected foundation, I dropped a frame despite which the bees were eerily quiet. Meanwhile in Yellow Triangle hive, we saw the queen lay an egg (we think) and everything was good except they were building burr comb like crazy. On the feeding front we had previously switched over to baggie feeders to clean-out the hive-top feeders and had put in a 1 gallon sized baggie filled with about 3 quarts of syrup into each hive.

After the incident with suspected queenlessness in Blue Triangle hive, I thought maybe I was going
Taking the cover off. Yay! No burr comb!
into the hives too often and decided to back off a little. The bees had been downing the syrup at an increasing rate, which was completely expected due to the increased brood and newly hatching bees, so last week we decided to put the hive-top feeders back on since they could hold more syrup. We opened up the hives to remove the empty baggies and check to see if it was time to put the second brood boxes on. After opening Yellow Triangle hive I was surprised to see that this colony had not built any burr comb. Unusual for them considering they’d been putting comb everywhere they could up to this point. I suspected that with the gallon sized feeder bag on top of the currently filled frames, they were content with a more normal bee space? If I’m going to be honest with myself, I was hoping that they had gotten it out of their system and were content to expand the brood further into outer frames of their current box. As you’ll see later...NOT! Each hive only had about 4 full frames drawn out so we decided to wait on adding the second brood boxes. Most of the sources I've been reading say to wait until the first box has 7 or 8 fully drawn frames.
Counting the frames to see how many are drawn out.

A.'s new addition to the feeders.
Without having any burr comb to scrape off the covers, this visit was pretty quick and easy. I didn't even use any smoke since I wasn't pulling frames out. I took out the baggies (which were completely empty), put the newly cleaned hive-top feeders back on and put a half gallon of syrup in each reservoir so that each hive had a supply of 1 gallon of syrup. Oh! I almost forgot, A. also made an ingenious addition to our feeders to reduce the number of drowned bees! He put square dowels with a handful of holes drilled into them into the bee areas of the feeders. They float on top of the syrup and the bees can get to the syrup on the sides or through the holes in the dowel. They work great and we noticed a real reduction in the number of drowned bees this week. After filling the feeders we closed stuff up. (Except I forgot the screws for the feeder screens so we had to go back on Sunday and put them in.) The bees from Yellow Triangle hive have been really busy and are doing well so we decided to open up the entrance reducer to the next largest setting. This seemed to confuse the bees a little and the foragers coming back kept trying to go in where the hole used to be. I suppose it would be akin to someone moving the front door to your house over to the left about 6 feet while you were at work. You’d probably come home and be like “What the devil?!” too. By the end of our walk they were figuring it out though. The Blue Triangle hive bees were not quite as active so we left their reducer at the smallest opening. That was pretty much it for last week. A. did some weed whacking under the electric fence and the hives to keep the grass in check and I sprinkled ground cinnamon around the stand legs to cut back on some of the sugar ants stealing syrup. The main thing was putting the hive-top feeders back on. On our walk afterwards we saw that the honey bees had discovered the Lilac bush about 20 feet behind the hives as well as the blooming Hawthorn tree in the vicinity. Sadly, we didn't get any good pictures of it. More pictures at the bottom of the post.
Bees drinking syrup using A.'s floats.

Fast forward to yesterday. Not having been into the hives for two weeks now, I was excited to go in and see what was going on. The weather was a little iffy but turned out much better than the original forecast so I was thankful. I lit the smoker and got started.

Burr comb under the feeder.
The hive-top feeder on Yellow Triangle hive was completely empty. They went through a gallon of syrup in a week. Not too bad, maybe they were hard at work drawing out the rest of the foundation and feeding brood...ha! remember before when I said I was hoping that the Yellow Triangle bees had gotten burr comb building out of their system? Yeah...not so much. Their hive-top feeder was pretty full of burr comb. If we’re going to keep using them, I think we’re going to have to do something about this. A.’s idea is to use a 2 by 4 and plane it down to fit into the opening then drill holes to give the bees access. I think it’s a pretty good idea and we've got two more feeder inserts on order. Not wanting to deal with the burr comb just yet, I set the feeder aside and continued with my inspection.

The colony in Yellow Triangle hive, continues to do well. There was one queen cup though I didn't
Queen cup in Yellow Triangle hive.
see anything in it. We saw the queen, still strutting around and doing her thing. I saw my first drone bee, and we saw some brand new bees chewing their way out of their cells! It’s pretty interesting to watch them come out and start grooming themselves with their wings still kind of stuck to their bodies. The bees in this hive had also built some comb across a couple frames so that got scraped out. One of the outer frames only had pollen and syrup in it so far so I slide it closer to the wall of the box and put a blank foundation in between to get them to draw out some more. As of yesterday Yellow Triangle hive only had about 5.5 frames of drawn comb so we decided to wait on adding the second brood box again. Now it was time to deal with the burr comb in the feeder. A bit frustrating as it’s not the easiest space in the hive to scrape. Also a bit awkward. I got as much of it out as I could. I’m sure there will be more the next time I go in but I’ll just have to deal with that when the time comes. I put another gallon of syrup in the feeder and closed it up.
Drone. He's the large bee in the bottom center. He's facing to the left and is bigger than the other bees with a dark thorax. His eyes are also very large.

Happy beekeeper! I just found the queen, what a relief!
On to Blue Triangle hive with a small amount of trepidation. At least when I smoked them this time there was some buzzing going on. A bit of instant relief there. The Blue Triangle bees hadn't downed the full gallon of syrup this week but they were pretty close. I’d say there was still about 1 or 2 cups of syrup still in the feeder. I took it off and got started. Lots of stored pollen and syrup in the first few frames. Then great news! Eggs! And even better news! On the next frame we saw the queen! Surrounded by attendants and doing just fine. And then...the ugly frame. So, perhaps you remember me mentioning a couple posts back, that the bees in Blue Triangle hive were rejecting some of the foundation and I had then intended to go in a scrape it off but didn't because I didn't see the queen and I didn't want to injure her if she was under there? Yup, that’s this frame. The bees actually had connected the two
Broken drone brood cell. Big white larva.
frames on together on the edge and I ended up ripping apart a few drone cells to get it out. There are several queen cups but nothing in them as far as I can tell so that’s good. This has to be one of the ugliest frames in all of beedom. I will eventually need to remove this frame and scrape it off but I’d like this colony to build its numbers up a bit first. They are doing well at drawing out the frames with about 5.5 fully drawn out frames. So they are keeping up with the burr comb builders over in Yellow Triangle hive. Still not ready for the second brood box either but I imagine we’ll be adding them to both hives in the coming week. Satisfied with my inspection I put everything back together,
Ugliest frame in all of beedom!
filled the feeder and closed up the hive. This colony’s activity looked good so we moved the entrance reducer up to the next largest opening here too. The Blue triangle bees didn't seem the have the same trouble as the Yellow Triangle bees last week in finding the entrance. On our walk we found honey bees on the Honeysuckle which was exciting. They seem to be finding plenty to forage on. We have a few things to deal with but all in all, things seem to be going ok.
One of my honey bees on the least I think she's mine.
More pictures from the rest of both days.
Taking the outer cover off.

The bees had chewed through the paper under the baggie.

One of A.'s feeder floats.

Shaking some bees off of the baggie.

Counting frames in Blue Triangle hive.

Trying not to squish any bees.

Fill'er up!

A. changing the reducer opening... sans veil.

Yellow Triangle hive bees getting a bit confused by the door location switch.

Assistant beekeeper weed whacking under the hives.

Perhaps McCormick should rename this Ant-Away?

Sprinkling cinnamon around the stand legs.

Hey! Where'd the door go?!

Using one of A.'s feeder floats.

Back the next day to put the screws back in that I forgot.

Only one or two drowned bees. Not too bad!

Big pollen baskets coming in.

Getting started.

More burr comb.

Scrap it off.

Yellow Triangle colony's queen. Looking good madame!

Blue Triangle hive's turn.

Ugh! Look at all that ugly!

Another view of the ugliness.

Mostly drone brood, some practice queen cups over on the far right.

Stuffing their little faces on Honeysuckle.

Foraging bee on Honeysuckle