Sunday, May 29, 2011

Recent visit

So a quick update here,
I took a look at the hives and they seem to be doing well. I must admit that I was feeling a little nervous because of getting stung the last time, and I felt a little more jumpy. Kinda like getting back on a bicycle after having a fall. I'm glad to say that everything went well, though.
Both hives seem to have the SHB numbers under control, and the swarm cell I saw the other day is still uncapped, and I don't think it contained an egg.
When I pulled a frame from the bigger hive it was quite heavy, and when it came out all the way could see why. Even though the bees had not fully drawn all the comb to fill the frame, it was predominately drone brood, both capped and hatched, and a number of the furry blokes were hanging out on the frame. My nerves were still bugging me, so I made the stupid mistake of tilting the frame away from me, instead of flipping it around. Because the bottom and parts of the sides of the comb were not attached to the frame the comb itself began to bend and tilt out, getting close to breaking and falling out. However, I corrected myself quickly enough and avoided certain disaster. I felt pretty stupid about it, though.
I now realize that I think it will be worth reinforcing the foundationless frames with toothpicks, just as I had with the frames that were filled with wax sheet foundation.
Toothpicks, broken in half, and inserted through the little holes in the sides of the frame through the wax.
The bees reinforce this themselves by molding the wax sheets around the toothpicks and bridging the space between the edge of the wax and the inside edge of the frame. I think it might be worth inserting the toothpicks into the the frames that will have starter strips and no foundation. I am curious to see how the bees will react when they get to the toothpicks as they build the comb down.
Both hives had some activity in the upper hive body, but not a whole lot. I hope that in another week I should see more comb building going on.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Love at first sting.

What a difference twenty-four hours can make. The beetle traps came early, so I made a trip to the hives to install them. In the process, I also took a look at the monitor tray to check on the beetle drop (how many beetles or larva that were falling down through the screened bottom board), and I'm pleased to say there were only two or three. I hope that this is good news, and not just because the beetles are hiding. However, when I opened up the top to install the traps I did not see too many around the frames, either. I think moving the hives into the sun made a big difference.
My lighter had ran out of fuel, so I did the whole thing without smoke. It went pretty well, except during my inspection of the second (larger) hive. The bees' energy seemed more agitated, which could have been due to any number of reasons. Perhaps the beetles, or perhaps the torrential rain we had had the night before.
I pulled a couple of frames, but when I was turning one around I moved my fingers too much and got on top of a bee who got mad about it and stung me. I managed to reposition the frame back into the hive (I had intended on switching it to the opposite side of the box anyway) without causing any more commotion. I took a minute to let the girls settle down and then put everything back together. My one and only sting during an inspection, with no protective gear or smoke - I feel pretty good about it.
I also saw what does look like a queen cell in one of the outer frames of the lower hive box on the smaller hive. It was uncapped with no egg. I'll have to keep an eye on it. With that hive I also swapped two of the outer frames from the lower box with two center frames of the upper box to help draw the bees up there a little more.
In summary, I'm feeling much better about the state of things, but I'll just have to see how things go. Here's a video on my sting:

Monday, May 23, 2011

Towards the End of May

So I have to be honest; I'm feeling a little moody. Having to deal with Small Hive Beetle has been a bummer, and I'm worried about the bees. I have confidence that the stronger hive will manage fine, but I have concerns about the smaller colony. Their beetle numbers are higher, and even though I have installed a screened bottom board which is helping, I'm still worried. I have some oil traps on the way that will fit between the frames, and I hope those will also help. I have also been reading and hearing about not opening the hives too much, because this counteracts the work the bees have done chasing the beetles into corners and keeping them there. When you pull the frames the beetles make a run for it and some get away, who in turn then reproduce.
I have also taken a little gamble and stopped feeding. Both colonies now have their second hive body in place, and although some would say it is premature to stop feeding, I think they will be okay. They've been bringing in nectar fine. The queen might also need some time to play catch up with egg laying; if all the cell space is being occupied by nectar, she won't have room for eggs. The bees need to keep building comb. We'll see how it goes.
In other news I will be attending a showing of the wonderful film Queen of the Sun which explores issues of Colony Colapse Disorder. I have seen it once already, and I highly recommend it.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Hive Inspection Videos

So here are some videos of my recent visit with the bees. The main goal was to take a look at the Small Hive Beetle situation, and remove any I found. Audio is a little weak, and camera angle not the best, but otherwise I'm glad I managed it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A good, but mixed, inspection.

Note the bee to right with the dark grey pollen on her legs. Where did she get that from, I wonder!
Despite discovering that my two hives had Small Hive Beetle (SHB), my most recent inspection went well. The bees are storing nectar and pollen in good quantities, and I even saw some capped honey already. 
As for brood development, both hives had many eggs - some even in the fresh comb built from the starter strips - larva was observed and some capped brood. I did not pull the middle most frames because when I noticed the SHB I did not want to disturb the heart of the colony too much. However, given the presence of SHB I will need to look at those frames soon.
It was wonderful to see the beautiful natural comb built by the bees! Comb that is most recently made is almost pure white; it is lovely to see.  

Fresh, pure white comb.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Small Hive Beetle Discovered

Small Hive Beetle

So I have a problem. This little critter is a Small Hive Beetle, and I have now seen at least two or three of them in each hive. The beetles themselves are not a massive problem but their larva are. They eat through the honeycomb and can ruin entire frames of comb, honey, and pollen.
I've been looking around on some forums and it seems like one of the best tactics is to move the hives into full sun, which mine are definitely not, and I've been worried about this already. Turns out the shade and cool climate near the edge of a wood is not the best spot. I'll have to do this soon, ideally before I add an additional hive body to either hive. It also sounds like I'm going to have to inspect the hives more than once a week for a little while and hopefully keep the beetles from getting too destructive. I also need to add screened bottom boards to the hives. Normally that tactic is used to combat Varroa mites, but it should work against the SHB, too.

Hive Inspection Video

So the weekend was the pits, rain and lots of cold temperatures. Today was nice enough to get out and the check the hives. I've got a dinky little video camera so I thought I'd grab a clip. It didn't turn out quite so well.... It was pretty windy so a small breeze just blew the thing over. At least my 3 year-old daughter was having a good time! The hives looked pretty good by the way.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

My first lessons in beekeeping.

On Easter weekend of 2011 I installed two packages of bees into two ready and waiting Langstroth hives. The hive bodies had been given to me by a family friend whose brother used to be a beekeeper but gave it up. The hive equipment had been sitting in a barn for a while, and a few boxes had become the homes of mice, so they were in rough shape. I took what could be salvaged, burned the rest, and cleaned up what I thought I could use.
Dadant, Hamillton, Illinois.
I purchased the bees through Dadant and my son and I took a very pleasant, if not somewhat long, road trip up to Hamillton, Illinois to pick them up. The folks at Dadant were very helpful and friendly, and helped us get the bees situated in the car for the ride home.  When we got to the beeyard I set about getting things ready to install the bees. Although I had read quite a bit about installing bees, as well as watching a number of videos, I was a little nervous about getting it right. My son got suited up in his new beesuit while I decided to brave it out without any protective clothing.
Installing the first package went very smoothly with no issues, and I felt pretty good about how things were going.
When it came time to install the second package, things got a little trickier. When I removed the queen cage I noticed that there were already attendants on the outside of the screen, so I think the bees had already formed a bond with her, giving them something to be protective of. I also made a mistake of not replacing the lid over the hole in the top of the package. I didn't realize I was making this mistake because the package hadn't come with a lid to replace in the first place. I simply had removed the syrup can. The bees immediately began to come out of the package, even after I had sprayed them down with sugar water, and when I knocked the box down to get the bees in a clump to pour out they got pretty pissed. Bees were taking to the air rapidly and I got stung about four times, mostly on my left arm. However, to add insult to injury, I got chased for a bit by at least one or two more bees when I tried to distance myself from the package. My poor son had to witness what must have looked like his father experiencing a psychotic episode as I dashed about the area, swatting at my head and swearing profusely. Not exactly gentle beekeeping....
Notice the slightly concerned look on my face? See all the bees flying around? Yeah, this just before I started getting stung.
Once things had calmed down I decided I needed to suit up to finish the job. So, with jacket, veil, and gloves I got the rest of the second package into the hive. I also set up 2 gallon feeder pails but I didn't like how much liquid ran out before the pressure equalized. It made me really nervous to think about what would happen if 2 gallons of liquid was slowly but steadily running into the hive, right on top of the new queen, so I switched them out with smaller glass jars with lids that I punched smaller holes into. They have to be refilled more frequently, but they've been working out great. The bees have really needed the supplemental feeding with all the rainy days we've had this spring and early summer.
A look at the feeder jar. I've since switched to an even larger glass container. 24 oz I think.
A few days later I checked to make sure the queens were out and doing fine, which they were, and both hives have done very well since and are expanding nicely.

With the job done I headed home...