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

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Trouble in Paradise?

We went into the hives yesterday to put larger bags of syrup in and do an inspection since we haven’t really looked around for a week. I wish I could say it was all good but I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Yellow Triangle Hive and their crazy comb building.
I started with Yellow Triangle hive. All seemed to be going well. The two quart bags we put in Friday at lunch were empty and the bees have been building crazy amounts of burr comb between the cover and the frames. I decided to set the outer cover aside while I looked through the frames after taking a pretty good look to make sure the queen wasn't on the cover. While going through the frames, I saw that this is a very prolific queen. There were eggs everywhere. Even where the workers were still drawing out comb. Anywhere she could lay an egg, she did. There was quite a bit of capped brood and syrup too. I have to do a bit more research about whether or not bees will cap pollen or bee bread as it looked like they had capped some but I wasn't sure if it was just the yellow wax or the pollen underneath. (Quick Vocabulary lesson: Bee bread is pollen that’s been mixed with a little honey or syrup and enzymes from the bee’s stomach. The bees eat it and it is also fed to the larvae)

We found the queen on one of the frames, and I’m relatively sure we saw her lay an egg which was pretty exciting. She lowered her abdomen into a cell and stayed there for a few seconds before crawling out again. I’m a bit perplexed with this colony though, as they seem to want to keep building burr comb up rather than draw out more comb to the sides. In an attempt to encourage them to draw out more frames, I moved one of the frames without any eggs and only open cells of syrup and pollen one more spot closer to the side and put an undrawn frame in its place. We’ll see what happens I guess.

I'm pointing at the queen of Yellow Triangle hive who I think was laying an egg at this point. She's facing to the right, her thorax is quite dark and you can see her wings extend off to the left of her thorax. There is also a ring of attendant bees surrounding and looking at her. In the picture below you can see the full queen after she exits the cell.

Still pointing at the queen of Yellow Triangle hive. This is just after she exited the cell from the above picture.

It took a while to clean the burr comb off of the outer cover. It was crawling with bees so I tried to be very careful and not take off any legs with my hive tool. I now have a jar full of burr comb from this hive and am going to have to either get another jar, a bigger jar, or melt what I have down into a small wax cake for easier storage. Being done with the inspection, I put a new baggie feeder in, a big gallon sized one this time, and put the inner cover on. We had forgotten the inner covers the last couple of times we changed the baggies so at least now if they build burr comb above the frames, it will be on the inner cover rather than the outer cover.

Ok, Blue Triangle’s turn. I had my first inkling that something wasn't completely right when the bees didn't buzz much when I puffed some smoke under the cover. Usually they buzz a bit and then settle down after a few seconds. Still not sure this wasn't normal, I pulled off the outer cover. Both the quart size baggies that we put in on Friday were empty so I took those out and started my inspection. This hive didn't seem to have as many bees in it as the other hive. They were still drawing out some comb and I saw some eggs so I felt pretty good but there weren't eggs everywhere like in the other hive. I continued with the inspection, looking for the queen on every frame as I went. There was capped syrup, and some capped brood. I was still surprised by how quiet these bees were. There’s usually a low level of buzzing but this time there wasn't much of that going on. Even when I lost my grip on a frame and dropped it on top of the hive they didn't get really upset like I would have expected. Not a proud or happy moment by the way, though in hindsight it was somewhat entertaining to watch A. hightail it out of the bee yard over the top of the electric fence because he hadn't suited up, not even a veil. Don’t worry, the fence was off.

Suspected queen cup on the bottom of the wonky comb in Blue Triangle hive.
Then I got to the frame where they appeared to be rejecting the foundation last time. I was intending to scrape it off and let them try again but I still hadn't seen the queen in this hive and I didn't want to risk injuring her. And then I saw it. There was a queen cup on the wonky comb and another one on the other side. I tried to get a good look but I couldn't tell if there were eggs in the queen cups. This is when I started to really suspect that the Blue Triangle hive may be queenless.

This is also when I started getting really frustrated with my bee veil. The mesh of the veil was getting in the way of being able to closely look at what I wanted to see. I may decide to go without it for the next inspection. After all, A. didn't suit up at all and he was fine. Admittedly, he wasn't handling the frames but it’s not like there were a lot of bees bumping into me while I was inspecting.

Anyway, at this point I wasn't really sure what to do. I saw eggs and larvae in different stages so the queen was around sometime within the last 3 days. Did the bees get upset that we were going in to fill the baggies too often and kill her? Did she just abscond? Did something else happen to her? Or was she still there under the wonky comb and I just couldn't see her? Some things I've read say that colonies sometimes build queen cups just to practice and then they let them sit empty for “just in cases” or tear them down after a while. In any case, I thought it best to put things back together and leave them alone for now while figuring things out. I think this warrants another call to Mr. Smith but I was pretty upset last night after we were done between the suspected queenlessness and the frame dropping incident that I didn't really want to call. So instead A. and I went out to dinner and decided that I would call Mr. Smith after work the next day. Well I've done a bit more reading since then and I think I have a fix. I can take a frame of mixed brood (eggs and larvae) from our stronger hive (Yellow Triangle) and trade it with an empty frame from the week hive(Blue Triangle). That way, if the Blue Triangle hive really doesn't have a queen they’ll have what they need to make a new one and if the queen was just hiding from us, they’ll just incorporate the new larvae into the brood and “no harm, no foul”. I still think it’s probably worth a call to Mr. Smith but at least I have a plan of action and I feel better.

Some more pictures from the adventure.
Taking the outer cover off of Yellow Triangle hive. You can see the empty quart baggies, and the bottom of the crazy burr comb project they have going on.

Ridiculous burr comb built under the outer cover. I wish they would spend less energy doing this and draw out more comb on the foundation. I get that there's a bunch of space to be filled due to the baggies but honestly?!

Various ages of larvae in Yellow Triangle hive. Youngest toward the bottom left.

Full frame and my burr comb jar, which is now full.

Scraping off some burr comb between frames. Look out ladies!

Close-up of some bees on the massive burr comb project under the outer cover.

They've just started drawing this comb out and the queen has already laid eggs in the center cells.

Removing the burr comb under the outer cover. This is me shaking the bees off the comb.

Excellent picture of how beeswax is created. You can see the scales of wax on the underside of the bee between the frames. It looks like dry skin flakes or fish scales.

Another view of the same bee from above. You can see the light yellow wax flakes.

Putting slices in the gallon sized baggie feeder.

Capped brood, I think, and a couple capped drone cells in Blue Triangle hive. Drone cells have domed caps.

Center left is either two drone cells, one capped and one not, or a drone cell and an emergency queen cup in Blue Triangle hive. The queen cup is on the other side of this frame.