Thursday, September 2, 2010

Hive 1: The Big Split

Mark consulted a couple of experienced beekeepers about the number of supersedure cells and what to do about it. The verdict: they're trying to swarm, so split the hive.

As Mark had wanted six hives all along, he wasn't going to argue.

So today, he drove to Shannon, MS to buy two queens from Tommy Holman. He has a 220-frame extractor and 600 hives, so Mark was pretty impressed with his operation. For the second time this week, two queen condos were brought to Bee Hill.

Hive 1 originally had 2 deep supers and 2 medium supers. The lower of the two deeps (with the bulk of the brood) and the top medium super full of honey (completely capped) became Hive 6. When I visited Bee Hill tonight, it looked like this (picture at right). I suggested we set a stem of leaves from a nearby plant on the entrance, to give the bees a marker, as I've seen on Steven's Bees. Mark was kind enough to indulge me.

Hive 1 is now the upper of the two originals deep supers, a medium super with honey (though not much is capped), and an empty deep on top to accommodate what we assume will be the greater number of bees. He put a new queen in both hives. Mark didn't look for a queen in the lower brood box when he moved it to be Hive 6, and his hope is that both of Holman's queens will be released and become the dominant forces in each of the "new" hives. The new Hive 1 (pictured at left) also had bees around the entrance, though not as many.

Hive 5, the "Macon" bees, seemed to be thriving and he added a pollen patty. Mark plans to return and add a medium super to make sure they have enough room.

Hive 4 got a jar of diluted honey rather than sugar water, from the odd smelling stuff I processed from the Kemper County project. Odds are it was goldenrod that gave it that odor, which will eventually go away according to the experts, but we'll just use it to feed the bees.

All six of the hives were treated with Terramycin (TM) for American and European Foul Brood.

Where is Your Honey From?

I follow a few beekeepers' blogs, and today The Weekend Beekeeper posted this article from AOL.

Look at the labels of the honey you buy, and support your local beekeepers. And hey, come next spring, feel free to support us! :-)

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Hive Inspection with Art Potter

Art Potter produces A LOT of honey. Generally, if someone here buys local honey, it's Art's, because he has a variety of local businesses promoting his product. He offered to help us with the re-queening, and to give us a hand with a more thorough inspection of the hives. In the picture, Mark is on the left and Art is on the right.

The best news is that there is no evidence thus far of disease or pests. HURRAY! We'll continue to be vigilant, but hope that our oil traps underneath screened bottom boards will continue to be effective.

Art's first advice was to get a plastic tote to carry the smoker, pine straw, hive tools, and lighter in. Mark grimaced and I laughed, because I've offered more than once to help him get organized. His second bit of advice was to buy entrance reducers and install them no later than October 1, to keep the field rats out of the hives.

We began with Hive 4, with the intention of finding the old queen and putting the new queen in. The sugar water feeder was empty, which was a good sign. The pollen patty wasn't completely eaten. What was ironic was that just over a week after our last inspection and our fear that this hive wasn't doing well it was full of active bees, and the brood pattern was consistent. Art explained that the reason they weren't laying wax evenly was the old wax Mark had put in an empty frame was not flat, and they were simply avoiding the comb that was invading their space by building around it on the frame next to it. I felt badly that we were going to kill a queen who wasn't doing as badly as we thought, but the factor of unknown age had us proceeding with the new queen. Can you see her in this picture? (Look in the center of the photo, about a third of the way from the top -- her body is longer.) One bit of good news too is that the worker bees were forming two "supersedure cells" which means they might have been displeased with the queen and intended to grow their own new one to replace her. Bloodthirsty wretches!

What you see in Mark's hand is what I call the Queen Condo. She's in this ventilated box with 3-5 worker bees and some fondant-style sugar to eat. There's a small hole on each end that is corked. When it's time to put the condo in the hive, they uncorked the candy end, poked a hole in the candy with a paper clip, and put the condo between two frames, screen side down, but one end angled up slightly. What should happen is that the new queen will release pheromones, bees from the current colony will come to see what's going on, they'll eat the candy plug, and by the time they eat their way through to let the queen out, they've accepted her and won't kill her. The condo is angled up so that if one of her attending worker bees dies, it won't block the exit. We're supposed to check on her in 3-5 days to make sure she got out.

This process was repeated for Hive 5, with the differences being they'd eaten the entire pollen patty, they didn't have a sugar water feeder so it won't need refilling, and **I found the queen before Mark or Art did!**

Then we decided to tackle Hive 1, the largest colony of all. Both medium supers have honey. What we didn't know was that the top deep super is nearly all honey too! Art said that super probably weighs 100 pounds! The big surprise in Hive 1 is the sheer number of queen cells they were growing. (In the photo, it's the large "blobs" on the edge of the frame.) They were seriously attempting to re-queen themselves, in spite of the fact that we'd given them a new queen before we even brought them to Bee Hill from their home in the tree. Art said it could be a variety of things: she could be injured, she could have fertility issues, etc. But they were scraping off supersedure cells like crazy, and then discovered one that looked as though it could have produced a queen that had hatched. By the time they got down into the bottom box of Hive 1, the air was full of agitated bees. I retreated to the four-wheeler, where they were dive-bombing my veil, which fortunately is stiff so they bounced off.

In total, we spent nearly two hours on Bee Hill. We have notes on next steps to take, but are left with a conundrum in Hive 1: attempt to re-queen if we can track down the new queen they made for themselves, or let nature take its course?

Date Night with the Beekeeper

You know you're an old married person when a "date" is any time you spend alone with your mate. In our case, Monday's "date" was driving to Forrest, MS to buy two new queens from Derwin Thrash (pictured at left). You can read about Derwin and his work with a locally famous beekeeper in this article. Derwin and his wife welcomed us into their home, gave us a jar of honey "in exchange" for the jar of jam we took to them, and offered a lot of helpful information. She's a teacher so you know we hit it off!

One of the queens has a long, golden body; the other is darker, and has a stockier build. We're hopeful they'll get Hives 4 & 5 on the right path. The idea behind this particular attempt to re-queen is that both of these colonies came from other places (a gas grill and an old dairy barn, respectively). With a purchased queen, you know she's young and fresh (!), and has "good genetics." Or in this case, at least known genetics. We also didn't see as much activity, solid brood patterns, and consistent wax building in these hives. So, hopefully the new queens will straighten out those worker bees and start laying well.

How many people can say they had a fun date that involved their husband picking up two other gals?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Murphy's Law of Beekeeping, Part 2 and Inspection Information

As soon as we filled the s0lar wax melter and set it outside, a weather front moved in. Clouds, rain, and a generally mugginess loitered over us all weekend, and is forecasted to remain until Thursday.

Mark said if he'd gotten the solar wax melter *and* washed his truck, the area would have flooded.

Today on my lunch break I researched forms and information to create an effective Hive Inspection Notebook. I bought the binder and a zippered case to keep pens and pencils in over two weeks ago. It's much easier to indulge in my love of office supplies than take the time to track down the forms.

I will save the Great Debate between "green" beekeepers and their counterparts for another post. Some believe in treating hives with medications and some don't. That said, I found a helpful resource from Ashley Bee Supply, which was originally published in the American Bee Journal in 2008. I found this hive inspection checklist from Mann Lake, Ltd. Finally, there's this one from the San Francisco Beekeepers Association Web site.

Hopefully one of them will fit our needs. If not, I'll create our own!