Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Slow Going

We had an apprentice beekeeper with us for the hive check on Saturday.  Jason's niece came out with them, they suited her up, and she got her first look at beekeeping close up.  Including tasting honey straight from the comb!  Hopefully she had fun, learned a little, and will join us again. 

I forgot the smoker.  I pull it out of my car and make sure it's safely extinguished after each hive check, and I forgot to put it back in my car for this visit.  We were slightly concerned, but the bees were calm and we couldn't tell a difference in behaviour between with/without smoke, although without the smoker we couldn't get them to move down into the hive when putting the inner cover on, so we had to slide it across slowly in order to not squish them.  Also, we weren't doing anything really disruptive, so need for the smoker was not as great.  Maybe we'll try to do more work without smoking them as much, as it sets them back a bit, and we need them to BUILD COMB FASTER! 

Trying not to squish the bees putting the cover on
The overall impression during the hive check was slightly increased population of bees, not much new comb, and not a lot of empty comb for the queen to lay in.  It's good that she's filled the available comb, but most of it was capped brood, which means she has to wait for bees to hatch or new comb to be built for her to have more room to lay.  There's also no room for significant honey stores to be added, which means slow buildup for winter.  Not that we've had much moisture around here, but if there was a good nectar flow, they wouldn't be ready for it.  Is it the bees or the foundation?

24 June 2012 - HOT, around 93 deg F at 1000, sunny and clear (no clouds, some smoke from Waldo Canyon fire); refilled empty feeders, 2 qts in 5 days (or less);
Frame inspection:
     1: nothing
     2: nothing (bees festooning on right side)
     3: 10% comb built on left, 90% comb on right side with 60% capped brood; repaired the comb area that was cut out last check, appear to be building it even this time; capped brood, nectar, capped honey in corners 

Frame #3 appears to have rebuilt straight comb
      4: 100% comb drawn on left, all capped brood, 95% drawn on right side, with 60% capped brood, pollen, nectar in corners, eggs have been laid in open cells where bees hatched;  frame is HEAVY
Sarah says Frame #4 was HEAVY!
     5: 90% comb built on left side, most with brood, queen spotted, 50% comb drawn on right side, some brood, some capped honey; starting double-layer comb here also     

What's up with the double-layer comb?
     6: 50% comb drawn on left side, double-layer twisted comb present which we removed, also some of the comb appears to be built out from the foundation, not a true double-layer, more like they just didn't want to build on the plasticell so they made themselves a little bridge and then starting building comb, we could see bees walking between comb and foundation; some brood present, no comb on right side

      7-10: nothing

 Sarah and I talked, and I'm going to make a few foundationless frames and replace some of the empty plasticell frames with them.  I'd like to see if they will build up comb faster that way, or if they're just slow builders due to the dry conditions (even with feeding sugar syrup).  Sarah's pretty much letting me run with decisions on this hive, and next year hive #2 will be her opportunity for CEO.  That means the Mistakes, I mean the Choices, for hive #1 are mostly mine to make.  We're both learning so much through the process, and with no single right way to do things there's lots of decisions to make.
Empty feeder over inner cover
In addition to swapping out a few frames, I'm going to set up a 5 gallon open feeder.  Open feeding is where you provide a food source (sugar syrup) with no physical restrictions on access to it.  The entrance and top feeder we're using now must be accessed from inside the hive, which means other insects (hornets, wasps, ants, other bees) must get past the guard bees first.  The open feeder could attract these other insects, but it could also allow more bees to feed at a time, and need refilled less frequently.  In order to discourage robbing (where these unwanted insects might follow my bees back to their hive and steal the nectar/honey they've already collected) open feeders should not be placed too close to the hive.  I picked up a food-grade plastic bucket with lid from a local donut shop, now I just need to drill the holes, mix the sugar syrup, and install in the bee yard.  No problem.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Hive Inspection Records Update

Bees with drawn comb and stored bee bread
I've been meaning to include the hive inspection results with the associated blog posts, but never got around to it.  So that I only have to record them in one place, I'm putting the results up on the blog, instead of here and in an Excel spreadsheet (even though I'm an engineer and it's really hard not to do it!).  
Bees "festooning" on a frame before drawing comb
History for Hive #1 ( or Unimatrix One as this geek likes to call it):
6 May 2012 - Package installed; sunny and clear; feeding 1:1 sugar syrup using entrance feeder

11 May 2012 - Verified queen released from queen cage, no further inspection of hive; 55deg F, calm, sunny; feeding 1:1 sugar syrup at rate of 1 qt every 4 days

20 May 2012 - Located the queen!  Marked with yellow dot for 2012, unsure if eggs are present, we don't see anything, but we're new.  Population is low.  Brace comb being drawn, notice double-layer comb on frame 3.  Feeding 1:1 sugar syrup in entrance feeder and added qt jar feeder over hole in inner cover (protected by empty deep box), going through 2 qts in ~5-8 days.  Saw many foragers carrying in pollen (orange, yellow);
Frame inspection:
     1: nothing
     2: nothing
     3: 10% comb built on left, 70% comb on right side, double-layer comb being built
     4: 80% comb built on left, 50% comb built on right side, queen spotted, lots of pollen
     5: 30% comb built on left side, nothing on right side
     6-10: nothing (some cyrstallization from spraying sugar syrup previously, some bees on 9)

28 May 2012 - Queen is laying well; warm, calm and sunny; entrance feeder empty, top feeder 3/4 emtpy, both refilled;
Frame inspection:
     1: nothing
     2: nothing
     3: 10% comb built on left, 80% comb on right side with 10% capped brood, eggs; double-layer comb a problem, some hatched brood 
     4: 90% comb built on both sides, with 10% capped brood, LOTS of larvae, pollen, some hatched brood
     5: 80% comb built on left side, most with bee bread, queen spotted, 10% comb drawn on right side
     6-10: nothing (some cyrstallization from spraying sugar syrup previously, some bees on 8)

9 June 2012 - Performed surgery on double-layer comb to remove it, encourage building straight, even comb; sunny and clear; refilled feeders, we are also refilling once in between inspections;
Frame inspection:
     1: nothing
     2: nothing (bees present on right side)
     3: 10% comb built on left, 90% comb on right side with 50% capped brood, eggs, larvae present; double-layer comb cut out; brood in 2 main central areas, surrounded by good amount of bee bread, capped honey in corners 
     4: 100% comb drawn on left, 90% drawn on right side, with 60% capped brood, pollen, some hatched brood
     5: 90% comb built on left side, most with brood, 50% comb drawn on right side, queen spotted, some brood
     6: 40% comb drawn on left side, double-layer comb started here also, eggs present, no comb on right side
     7-10: nothing

Most of the bees are grouped on these 3 frames, #3,4,&5.

Feeders refilled on 18 June 2012, had been empty for several days.  We are refilling the 2 quart jar feeders about once a week with 1:1 sugar syrup.  We should probably figure out a (cheap) feeder that's larger, to ensure the girls aren't sitting empty for days, and that also allows us to only refill during hive inspections.  I've got some ideas.  

We are feeding syrup for several reasons.  One, it's a new package, and having a solid supply of "nectar" is necessary for them to build comb, especially while the population is building up.  Two, it's been really dry so far this year (as evidenced by the forest fires running amuck around Colorado) and I'm not sure how much of a nectar flow is out there.  Third, all the bloom times got messed up by the early spring, so we're kind of experiencing our mid-summer dearth now.  Obviously some plants are blooming because the bees are foraging and bringing in pollen, but I don't want them to slow down building up if they can't find enough nectar out there.  Hence the supplemental feeding.  Once they have all the comb built in both of the deeps (the second one hasn't been added yet), we'll pull the feeders off and let them bring in their own supplies.

I need to remember to bring the Hive Inspection Sheets with me when we go out to the beeyard; I keep forgetting and Jason has to take notes on plain paper.  Not so bad, but the Inspection Sheets have specific items to check and take note about the hive, and a place to record the weather conditions, etc.  The engineer in me loves this.  It's important to remember to look for drone comb, queen cups/cells, and signs of pests/diseases; things that new beekeepers like Sarah and I might easily forget.  One more thing to throw in my beekeeping kit.

Lots of bees on the frame, but still a lot of comb to draw.

Even though it feels like the bees are making no progress on drawing out the comb, looking back at the records show they are drawing it out slow and steady.  Not always straight, but who am I to complain?  The beekeeper that's who! 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Comb Surgery and Dissection

There were a few casualties, but overall the surgery went well.  That crazy double-layer comb that had been bothering us suffered an amputation.  We cut it right off.  It went pretty smoothly, too, considering.  
Covered in bees, the comb on frame 3 doesn't look too bad. . .
First we made sure the queen wasn't on the frame in question.  We spotted her easily again, and she was hanging out a few frames over.  Instead of shaking the bees off the frame, we used the bee brush to remove the bees, ensuring that we smoked them well all throughout the process. 
As the bees clear, the double-layer comb in the center pops out at us.  Other than that, a nice circular area of brood, surrounded by nectar and pollen, with capped honey in the corners looks good.
We then removed the frame a short distance, hoping to not draw the bees back to the frame of brood and stores.  Then I just hacked away, trying to keep a constant thickness to the first layer of comb on the frame.  I ended up cutting up some larva, and we lost the brood layed in the comb we cut off.  As Dick said, what's 70-80 bees among 10,000? 
Carefully wielding the scalpel, uh, I mean the saw blade.

Trimming off one last little section
There were 2 sections of comb cut off, and some smaller pieces along the top.  Hopefully the bees will repair the comb, level out the comb on the opposing frame, and provide open cells for the queen to lay in.  If this goes well, this frame will be corrected, but we've discovered a second frame with the double-layer comb beginning.

I'm tempted to remove the plasticell foundation, cut it into a smaller strip to use as a guide attached at the top, and let the bees build their own foundation (foundationless frames). 
Example of a foundationless frame
Some beekeepers think this works better, others say once they've made the decision to build on the plasticell just let them continue.  But it looks like the comb building on the foundation is sloooooowwww, and they just whip out those double-layer combs in no time.  There's no right answer here, which makes it really hard.  What if I make the wrong decision for THIS hive? 
Frame with double-layer comb before surgery . . .

Frame after surgery.  You can see 2 nice areas of brood, surrounded by bee bread, with capped honey (the white capped comb) in the corners.  Area in center was where "amputation" occurred.

After an afternoon of beekeeping, Sarah and Jason decided to play entomologists, which turned out pretty cool.  They "dissected" some of the larvae and brood in the removed comb, and got some great pictures.  You can easily see the progression from an egg, to larva, to pupae, to adult bee. 
From left to right, egg, larva, pupae in 3 levels of growth

There were 3 bees that we got to see hatch.  We put them back in the hive.
Piece of excised comb, showing pupae in cell.  You can also see the "bridges" used to create the double-layer of comb.
While the removed brood didn't make it, we are saving the beeswax, because a good beekeeper never knows when it might come in handy.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Road Trips and Baby Booties

This last weekend I traveled home for my niece's baptism.  It being a 7 hour drive, I tried to pack my "project bag" accordingly.  I brought my socks in progress (they go everywhere with me), the sweater wrap I'm knitting for my sister, and the pair of baby booties I started for my niece (a pair of totally adorable knitted Converse hightops).  

I also included a drop spindle with some of the mixed BFL I'm spinning.  I was hoping to have the baby booties closer to finished on the drive there, but it didn't happen.  I ran into this thing called "poor preparation" and it bit me in the ass.  While I had started these booties, and quickly scanned the entire directions, I had failed to make note of the special stitches required in the pattern, which means I hadn't looked up how to do them, and was stuck in the middle of Wyoming with no 3G and no way to check what the stitch directions meant.  So, I was on temporary hold with the booties.  I pulled out the sweater wrap, and discovered I was almost to the end of the yarn skein.  Forgetting this, I had failed to pack more yarn.  Yes, I managed to finish a few more rows before the yarn ran out, then I had to pack that away, too.  I brought out my spindle once I was home, and showed my family what I have learned about making yarn.  I spent my 15 minutes a day spinning, and then I ran out of fiber.  I'd only packed a little bit since I was planning (hah!) on doing more knitting.  Needless to say, I played a lot of soduko on the drive.

And my niece is abso-fricken-lutely adorable.  

Converse-style baby booties