Thursday, April 16, 2009

Win Some, Lose Some

GP took away my strongest hive last week. I have missed it. I still have four hives in the home beeyard and one across town, but there's something sad about saying goodbye to the first colony of bees I ever had.
Of course, that ONE swarm has given me four swarms this year, (unfortunately I haven't caught all of them) so I have the next generation of the original colony in at least two of my five current hives. My problem comes with the condition I let the original colony leave in.
This colony was established in a Langstroth hive, with two deep hive bodies, 9 or 10 frames in each one. Comb was drawn out on every frame, and there was a shallow honey super on top that the bees were just beginning to draw out comb into. When GP and I opened the hive, we found a number of queen cells that we unwisely left intact. Once GP got the hives home, those queen cells opened and the colony swarmed and swarmed and swarmed until now there is very little left to the original colony. GP is a busy man and did not have time to catch every swarm, so he's down to two weak colonies, although he should have quite a bit of brood going in the main hive. I feel bad for not preventing the swarms. It's still early in bee season here, so he has plenty of time to let the colony rebuild, but it may be a weak honey year for him because what was once 70,000 bees is now maybe 10,000. Bummer.
Back on the home front, I plan on opening the top bar hives in my own beeyard early next week and looking for capped brood. I want them to be well underway before I send them to George's orchard, Beeyard #3. Every morning I see a flurry of activity at the entrance to all of them, so the bees have stayed and seem to be doing what they do best. Now I just have to encourage them to build straight comb along the topbars.
One last remark. I continue to get calls about swarms, but lately they are from people in TN. That's too far for me to travel to catch them. I'd love to do it, but I still have responsibilities to fulfill at home and work.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Expanding the Operation

The end of the last post mentioned two more swarms I had to collect. CJ called the office looking for me while I was in a department meeting, she was headed out to catch them herself because my department meetings usually last longer than most of my marathon times, but I digress. Several months ago, some friends of ours bought a house that came complete with a resident bee colony. I am not big on cutting colonies out of houses, especially colonies between the second floor and the attic, so I told them to watch the colony and let me know when it swarmed and I would do my best to get the swarm. The established colony is going to have to remain feral. So today it swarmed, at the same time my Langstroth hive cast yet another swarm. The swarm at my house was about ten feet up on a small sapling. Retrieving this swarm was far easier than collecting them from off the fences. Just watch...

Of course, it's never that easy. I didn't have a hive to put the swarm in. CJ had loaded the extra hive into the car to take over to the new bee yard (our friends' back yard.) I had to build a new hive from leftover lumber, so I took a 2' by 4' piece of plywood and made a 1/2 size top bar hive. I have been wanting to do this to use them for splits and nucs in the future. I was able to build this new, smaller hive and paint it in just over an hour.
When the paint was dry, I painted the inside with sugar syrup to encourage the swarm to stay in their new home. So far, it seems to have worked.
The real reason for this post is to introduce my new beekeeping companion. CJ led the charge on the swarm retrieval from our friends' house.

Yes, that is CJ in the bee suit, wielding the bee vac and catching a swarm! I'm quite proud of her. She says she earned dinner out tonight and the right to be added as a team member on the blog. She got dinner out, and I'll most likely make her a team member here very soon.
The final bit of information, GP came and took away the Langstroth hive and the swarm we caught this morning, thus reducing the number of hives in my bee yard to four. There will be no more swarms to come home to, so I may now actually be able to get back to my real work.

Swarm Season

Swarm season is upon us.

I have bees coming out of my ears.

I have caught 6 swarms in the past three weeks, lost two, and currently have five hives sitting in my beeyard.

Unfortunately, my beeyard is also my backyard. UPDATE: The picture above actually shows SIX hives in my back yard, all with bees in them. Can you spot them all?

CJ is evicting the bees. (More on this in the next post.)

As I got home last night from the university, I noticed yet another swarm on the fence behind my house. I had an unfinished top bar hive in the garage, but decided to call my friend GP and see if he wanted this swarm as well as the Langstroth hive colony, which, it turns out, is responsible for all of the swarms in my yard.
He was still in the field, so I left a message for him to call me back and quickly went to work finishing the last top bar hive in case he were unable to collect the swarm. Fortunately, he called me back. He got to my house this morning at about 9:30 and I had just completed vacuuming up the swarm. (I will have to write an ode to my bee vac. I love it that much.)

We got the swarm transplanted into a new hive body that he had brought with him, then proceeded to open the four other hives scattered about my property. Each one has a different and unique story, and I guess this post is to catalog those stories.

The Langstroth hive is by far the strongest of all of my colonies. We opened it up and found about 10 closed queen cells and an equal number of open queen cells.

I actually cut one of the closed queen cells open and out popped a beautiful virgin queen, ready to go to work. I caught her and was about to throw her into one of the hives that we believe to be queenless (this is not a good idea), and she flew away from me. She'll likely die, but there's little I can do about that now.

I just got a call that I have two more swarms to catch, one in my yard and one at another friend's house. I'll have to finish this post later tonight...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

New Season, New Challenges

I have let the bees winter and yesterday opened the hives for a little spring cleaning and examination. What I found was consistent with current beekeeping challenges around the country.
In the Langstroth hive, the colony is bursting at the seams. Both of the hive bodies (10 frame, deep) are completely full of bees. They have a little honey and pollen left, but the queen is busy doing her job and building up the population. I didn't see any queen cells on the frames, but I didn't get to do as thorough an examination as I would have liked. Still, I am almost certain that a swarm from this hive is inevitable in the next couple of weeks. I did super the hive with a 10 frame short (6 inch) honey super to encourage the bees to draw out some comb and maybe even expand into there rather than swarm. If they will move up into the short super, I will most likely try and split the colony into two before they swarm. It's not a guarantee, but as long as I remember that these bees are experimental and I am not all that interested in maximum honey production, I have no problems experimenting with the different beekeeping techniques that are out there. I have offered this hive to the man who originally loaned me the beekeeping equipment just because two hives on my lot has encroached too much on CJs and the kids' play space. The smaller top bar hive will be adequate for my own trees and garden needs. He'll probably be collecting them from me some evening this or next week.
One problem with this colony is that I saw varroa in the drone cells of the Langstroth hive, so that needs to be remedied. A bottom screen and the appropriate medication should help remedy the problem. This is an issue with Langstroth hives that most beekeepers experience.
Now on to the top bar hive. Yesterday's nice weather had the girls from the Langstroth colony going gangbusters, but there was no movement at the entrance to the top bar hive. This hive needed a complete open and spring cleaning. Last year, when I put the colony in there, I tried to fasten as much of the old comb from the cutout into the hive, and the weight of the honey, the heat, and my own lack of experience resulted in an M.C. Escher-like configuration of comb. The top bars were largely ignored as the bees continued to build on and around the comb I provided them with from their home in the column. Sadly, there is no queen in this colony, and she's been gone for a while. There are about 1,000 bees living out their lives, but the colony is most likely doomed. There was no brood, the old comb had green mold growing on it, and the bees were sluggish and generally unwell. It's amazing how not having a queen affects a colony. They don't have any drive to work, they have no purpose, and without brood, they cannot make themselves queenright. I took advantage of the dwindling population to take out all the old comb, scrape out the propolis, and prepare the hive for a swarm. The proximity of the two hives may lead the scout bees to determine that the top bar hive is a suitable home for a swarm. We'll see.