Friday, June 27, 2014

Schrodinger's Bees?

The Dregs, sitting and chilling on their front porch.

It's been five days, and we just couldn't wait. Bees were coming, bees were going, which was good, but not enough to satisfy our curiosity. We needed to know what was going on inside The Dregs. This is the one problem with bees and beehives -- you can't see inside them without lifting the lid. Like the famous cat of Schrodinger fame, they could be alive or dead, but without looking in the box, we would never really know.

Lots of capped brood and Queen cells at the bottom.
Once everyone was suited up, that was exactly what we did -- and we could not beelieve what we saw! We were hoping that by taking uncapped brood from other hives, the new hive would be able to create some Queen cells so they would have the required egg-layer to keep the hive alive. Alive? That would be an understatement! They did create a Queen cell... then another... then another. Actually, we counted 27 Queen cells on the middle four frames, and they have been working on every frame in the hive. They also went through all their juice; it was bone dry. The Queen cells are distinctive because of their long shape and bigger size. Usually the brood cells are capped flush with the frame. Only one Queen will go on to rule the hive. When she comes out of her cell, she will chew through the other Queen cells and kill the growing Queens inside. The Queen in this hive will spend a lot of time chewing those other cells!

Textbook Queen cell on the bottom right end... the really long one!
So, now comes the new dilemma. Do we try to split it again, taking the three frames with Queen cells and putting them into a hive each, robbing some brood and eggs from the other hives, or do we not get greedy in the creation of new hives? We were more than content to end the year with 5, especially considering that we had only planned on 3 when we started out. We already are up one -- a bonus hive. Do we push our luck and see if we can take this year to establish the hives, then let them do their honey thing in full force next year? Looking out the window and seeing the rain, I can't imagine the bees will want to be doing much of anything in this cold, so perhaps letting them make a new hive or two might not be a bad idea after all.
More hired help. They will eventually get paid... in honey.
More Queen cells, these all over the frame. The bees will pick any cell that has an egg that is the right age when they don't have a Queen. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014


Herbie the Wonderdog, in case you had to ask.
Well, it’s been a week. After the Moody Blues and White Outs got too cranky to have in the yard, taking their ire out on man (especially when mowing lawns) and beast (poor Herbie the Wonderdog does not like bee stings), we decided it was time to find them a permanent (for now, because that’s how we roll) location. Thankfully, the longest day of the year held promise for such a job.

On Saturday, a day that started at 6am, we cleared out the area where the bees would call home. We pounded in the posts, stretched the wire, covered the ground with crush, built the benches, and finally, at 9pm, we were ready to move the bees. Luckily for us, the Moody Blues and the White Outs had retired early (being cranky all day is probably tiring). We covered their doors and moved them to their new digs. Team Tangerine and Mellow Yellow, however, were more than content to sit on their front porch and visit. After all, it was the longest day of the year, and the evening was very pleasant. They were still visiting out there at 10 pm, and at 10:30 pm... Finally, being the old fogies that we are, we went to bed before the bees, promising to be up early again the next morning to move the last two hives.

Herbie (the twice bitten but still not shy) Wonderdog woke us at 5 am, apparently anxious for the rest of the bees to be gone. We could see that the Mellow Yellows were sleeping in (thankfully) but Team Tangerine was already starting to buzz. A few pieces of wood and some duct tape later, they too were on their way. We put pieces of wood in front of their porches so they would know that something was different so they would do some exploring flights, but some of those bees were just downright determined to stay in the yard, returning there and gathering where their hives used to be. Fortunately, the Pistachios, being the slowest of the hives, had been left in the yard, put in place of the Mellow Yellows. This was done in the event some of the bees wanted to return to their old home. A lot of them did, and are now calling Pistachio home, but that’s okay. It’s a simple and effective way to strengthen a weak hive.

We noticed though that there were a lot... seriously A LOT of bees returning to where Team Tangerine used to live, as well as some to where the other two hives used to be. What to do? The obvious thing to us was to take a new hive, pull a couple of frames with brood and eggs, and some uncapped larvae from the established hives, slip them into the new one, give them a feeder and some protein paddy, and put it where the stragglers were looking for their home. We now have 6 hives (if the new one creates a Queen)... we’ll call the new one The Dregs.

Having upset their routine so severely, we wanted to check on all the hives. Of course, it has to be the hottest day of the year... hotter than the hubs of hell, as my dear old daddy used to say. We opened up the bottom screens for all the hives, giving them some better air circulation. We opened up their doors, allowing more bees to go in and out. We were thrilled with one hive, disconcerted about another and a bit disappointed in the third. Suffice to say that none of the hives were thrilled to see us!

The Moody Blues had moved onto their first new frame. We took out the feeder, and we removed the protein paddy (okay, we left it out by accident but they weren’t eating it anyway). There were still five empty frames so we sprayed them with a bit of sugar water. We were hoping to see a bit more progress from them.

After closing up that hive, we were thrilled to see what was happening with the White Outs. They still had juice, but we pulled the feeder anyway to make some room for more frames They had five frames with both sides capped with brood! We scraped off the comb they had been making on the lid, because it too was filled with open brood, and put it in the second box. Yup, they had progressed enough that it was time to double their hive size!

Team Tangerine still had their drone frame empty. We removed their feeder because the entire top box was full of... honey! There was no brood there at all, so we decided it was time to give them their third box, a honey super. They can fill that baby with honey to their hearts’ content now. We took one of their top frames of capped honey and moved it to the new box we were starting. In their lower box they had very little capped larvae, but all frames were in use and new larvae, uncapped, was there, so the Queen is back on the job. That was a relief to see, because Queen transactions can be tricky.

Yes, that's honey... lots of honey just as it should be!
The Mellow Yellows have been working like troopers. They have had a honey super (third box) on the hive for a week, and they have already filled four frames with honey. On their second box, the outside frames were empty but the rest was very active with brood and honey. We took one frame of capped larvae to the new hive, and one frame of larvae and eggs. Hopefully the bees in the new hive will feed one of the new larvae lots of royal jelly and turn her into a Queen. They really are incredible animals.

Last was poor little Pistachio. The hive is still in the yard, gathering the stray bees from Mellow Yellow, and it was a busy place today. They still have three untouched frames, some capped brood and still have some juice. We opened the door, and will probably move them to the new area next week.

The Dregs was given a full feeder of juice. They will be a little bit of Mellow Yellow, a little bit of Team Tangerine, and tonight, when the Moody Blues and White Outs stray try to go to bed in their old location, we will have a cardboard box for them to sleep in. Once they are asleep, we will quietly move them into The Dregs as well, so they will have a home. Hopefully it works, but it will be a learning experience nonetheless, and could have the potential to create a new hive – a split (because it comes from pieces taken from already established hives). Welcome to Splitsville!

Angry bees -- for now.
Splitsville -- The Dregs, with all it's new bees.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

More NooBees Are Here

Yes, they arrived last week… the Moody Blues, Pistachios, and the White Outs. These are our first nuc hives – they are made of cells started in other hives, where the Queen is established. The frames are transferred into the new hive, complete with queen, to set up a new colony. This is supposed to be a faster way to establish a colony, so it will be interesting to see how they do in comparison to the other two already here. These bees have many generations of being bred locally and are supposed to be well adapted to our environment.

The bees in the new hives seem… different. We wouldn’t say they are more aggressive, but perhaps a bit easier to excite. They certainly let you know that they don’t really appreciate you peeking into their hives. They were set up with protein pads and juice, and we’ll see how they do. As happened with the first two hives, there is one that seems stronger (The White Outs) and one that seems to be lagging (Pistachios), but as we’ve learned from Mellow Yellow and Team Tangerine, they tend to do things their own way in each hive, at least a little bit, so we count no one out yet, even if they seem a bit slower coming out of the gates.

When we checked on Team Tangerine, we found an interesting (and perhaps concerning and perplexing at the time) discovery. There were some ‘new’ cells at the bottom of a middle frame, longer and much bigger than the other larvae cells. There were three of them, which removed any doubt about what they were – new Queen cells. Team Tangerine wanted, or needed, a new Queen, so they set to work and created one. By the time we found them, all three were opened. When the hive does this, it’s because there is a problem with the Queen – she is too old, she is sick, she isn’t able to lay eggs… so the hive, knowing that the Queen is vital to survival, takes matters into their own hands. The new Queen, when she hatches, will eat her way out of the cell. She then goes to the other two Queen cells, rips them open and kills the Queens in them. She then has to go on a ‘mating flight’ outside the hive… she finds drones from another hive to mate with. This is the only time she will leave the hive. Once she returns, she will spend the rest of her life laying eggs.

While all this has been happening, we noticed that there was no egg production in the hive (since there wasn’t a laying Queen for about two weeks). Instead, because bees are nothing if not busy, they have put all their energy into creating honey. Though they were lagging behind The Mellow Yellows in bee production, they are leaving MY in the dust when it comes to filling their comb with sweet wonderful honey. Some of the frames, when lifted, are nearing 20 pounds in weight with bees and honey.

The discovery of the Queen cells was disconcerting because it can be an indicator that the hive is about to swarm, leaving here and finding new digs to call home. All evidence though indicates that this was because they needed a new Queen, and it was done with typical bee-ish textbook proficiency.

As for the Mellow Yellows, they grew into a third box. Yes, we have our first honey super, three boxes high, with the top box waiting to be filled with nothing but honey, just in time for peak honey production season. 

Here is the Queen cell. You can see how she chewed a flap open so she could get out. She then ripped open the other two so she could kill the Queens developing in them

LOTS of bees now in this hive!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Ain't MisBeehavin'

Well, our bees are certainly earning their keep... at least the Mellow Yellows are. Team Tangerine has some catching up to do! We checked the hives this afternoon, peeking into the top box first, and we were very happy with what we saw.

TT is creating comb on the top box, and there are some cells with larvae. They have gone through their protein pad and their juice jug was empty, and we decided to leave them that way for a while. There are so many plants in bloom that they will not go hungry. They seem to have taken a shine to the burning bush, which is in bloom right now. We wouldn't have known it was in bloom (because the flowers are very nondescript) if it hadn't been for the bees gathered around it. The trees out front are just starting to bloom now, and those will keep the bees more than well fed. TT had an increased population of bees, and new ones are doing the dance outside the hive daily, but we don't need to add another box to their stack yet, and we didn't open their doorway more.

As always, the Mellow Yellows were next, and wow! They have comb and are laying a lot of babies in most of the frames in their second box, and in the lid as well. There were a LOT of new bees... enough that we had to smoke them a bit more to calm them, and enough to make us give them a bigger door to go in and out. We were so surprised by the progress made in the top box that we just had to open it up and see what was happening in the box below. The comb down there is darker, and gets even more so with each brood of babies they hatch out. They are busy filling out that comb with honey... LOTS of honey. (Now comes the fun of keeping the wasps and hornets away, and man, do we have those again this year.) Mellow Yellow's amazing progress probably means they will be getting a new box again by next weekend, and will be three boxes tall with a medium depth one for honey on top. The experienced apiarists in the area tell us that peak honey flow usually happens around the summer solstice, so we are just in time.

We will also be starting three new hives this week. Finally, we will be receiving our first 'nucs'. It took a long time for the bees to be ready to breed because of the very cool and wet May weather, but we will finally have some local home-grown bees of our own. They get handled differently (at least as far as introducing them to the hive goes) so this will be yet another new experience for us.

We also have another bee suit, so if you're interested in seeing what we're doing, you're welcome to suit up and have some fun. This way, you get a front row seat for all the action. While we were working with the girls today, we had another guest show up -- a rhinoceros beetle, which isn't supposed to be here in June, but we weren't complaining.

We'll include some pics of the honey cells, the frames loaded with pollen, and one that has a really amazing picture of the bees' tongues -- yeah, they have tongues! Who knew?