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.