Saturday, May 11, 2013

Hive Inspections: Winterfell is feisty, Wildlings & Dothraki stage a revolution

Wow! Lots of changes in all three hives since last week. I did the inspections on Thursday in order to keep a solid inspection schedule. I feel this is very important when it comes to beekeeping. There are already so many distractions in modern life, and without committing yourself to a consistent schedule it will be very easy to fall behind. "Oh I'll just do it tomorrow, I just feel like watching tv today." could very well turn into more procrastination the next day. Just a few days is all it takes for a hive to fail cascade when at this small of a size. Now, don't take that to be scaremongering. If anything it should be encouragement to be a responsible caretaker of your bees, and you should already be super excited to visit them anyways! It's amazing enough to just watch them coming and going, and it's even more amazing to open up the hive to see what your bees have accomplished under your care!

Dothraki Hive

So it had been exactly a week from when the Dothraki bees got a new frame of brood for queen production. I inspected them first, since they're on the back patio and I don't even need to leave home for that. All of the queen cells are capped up, there's plenty of open honey with a good percentage already capped, and a really nice bouquet of pollen as well (which you can see in the very top picture). The pollen ranges from completely white, to pale yellow, to neon yellow, and then both dull orange and neon orange. There are foragers coming and going at a constant rate. I'd say about one in every eight bees is returning with their pollen baskets loaded. That's a pretty good ratio it seems, judging by the good stored in the hive. All of the queen cells have been sealed up as well. So in another week and a half or so, there should be a duel between the first two queens to decide who rules.

Apparently there was a drone cell on the frame that got transplanted from the Widling hive. I caught an awesome video of him getting kicked out. At least, I'm 75% sure it's a drone due to being a bit larger and darker, but it may have been a robber/stray bee as well. I didn't think to check at the time if it was a drone, since they don't have a current queen to have been producing them. The bees are also chugging syrup and building up lots of comb. I'm thinking they're taking the readily available food and only sending a few out as foragers due to smaller numbers, only one frame of brood, and it being riskier to collect nectar than it is to just hit up the entrance feeder.

I recommend watching in a high definition and expanded size

Pests: None, Bees: 2 frames of bees, Brood: 1 frame (L, CB, 4 sealed Replacement Queen Cells) with scattered laying pattern from Wildling queen, Honey: 2 frames, Pollen: mixed well among 3 frames, Syrup: 4 cups since last week

Wildling Hive

Last week when I pulled out the frame of brood I didn't look for the queen, but I did look for eggs. Looking for eggs is the fast way to check for a queen's presence. Eggs take on three positions as they mature: straight up on the first day, leaning like the Tower of Pisa on the second day, and then a very low lean on the third day prior to hatching. I saw eggs on day 2 so that means the queen was active in the last two days. No need to find her when she's been active that recently, not to mention that nature was getting ready to douse the hive and I in heavy rain. The first frame I pulled out had about 3/4 of one side with honeycomb, nice and heavy. Then as I went to set it back in I noticed a queen cell on the next frame. Upon checking the rest of the frames, the girls have not just 4 queen cells like the Dothraki, but SEVEN queen cells on just two frames of eggs. They were solidly capped cells, and they even made a crazy trio of queen cells. Of which each is only seperated by one non-functional cell from the other. That's sort of Hunger Games'ish, training and growing right next to the same people that will soon be trying to kill you.

I'm going to guess that stormy day last week with drizzling rain eventually coming down on the open hive + the inconsistent/scattered laying pattern of the original queen had the bees decide that it was time to replace her. Too many stresses at one time to tolerate an underperforming queen. Remember that this was the original queen from their old hive too, so she was already aged. Still strange though that both feral hives have fired their original queens. These bees have also consumed less syrup than the Dothraki hive. I'm guessing that it's most likely due to them having higher numbers of foragers and a good sized, productive farm 50ft away.

So within a day or two of the Dothrakis, these 7 queens should be thunderdoming it out to decide the victor in a brutal fight to the death. At least the first 2-4 will, the winner from that will then either face single challengers as the others hatch out, or the winner of the first fight will achieve victory quickly enough that she can go around the frames, killing the remaining queens as they lay helpless in their cells.

Other than that though, the hive is extremely busy. Lots of bees coming and going, about one in six bees has pollen. They've started building up another frame with comb, which makes up for the comb given to the Dothraki. Plenty of honey is in storage, not too much capped outside of some extra capping of their original comb. Then again they've only recently built up full sized cells on the foundation, the rest has been pre-existing comb that is rubber banded into empty frames. No big deal there, they're obviously happy and getting enough from the surrounding area that they aren't chugging from the feeder. There's also lots of brand new larvae (very small, compared to the fat larvae who are about to spin cocoons) and capped brood, so I'm not worried about numbers with this hive at all.

These bees were taken from a water meter cut-out and transferred into a Super sized nuc box, so that means they're on 3/4 sized frames. I didn't want them building wax down from the frames and attaching onto the bottom board. Not only would that be an incredible pain to get the screening cleaned out, but that'd be a ton of wasted wax for the girls when they need 100% material and labor efficiency. The day before I had gone down to South Florida Bee Supplies and picked up a Super box, as well as a nuc box (to be used as a hive trap), total of 30 frames (10 Super without foundation, 10 Deep without foundation, 10 Deep with foundation), another feeder, and some queen lure. So I spent about 10mins getting them transferred from the Deep and into the Super. The Wintefell hive was used as a table, which was actually a pretty poor idea.

Pests: One beetled that was imprisoned between a frame and hive wall (now dead), Bees: 3 frames of bees, Brood: 2 frames (L, CB, 7 Replacement Queen Cells, minute scattering of drone cells) with scattered laying pattern from previous queen, Honey: 3 frames, Pollen: mixed well among 4 frames, Syrup: 2 cups since last week

Winterfell Hive

Just look at that fresh, beautiful pure comb being built up on that foundation. That's frame seven, counting from the left side of the hive with entrance facing forward. These girls have frames two through seven built up with comb! They originally only had three frames built up with the fourth only just starting to be developed with small flecks of wax. All that in just three weeks. These girls are busy!

They also got a little fiesty haha. I hadn't given it much thought at the time, but all the vibrations and bumps from using the Winterfell hive as a table had gotten them nervous. It sounds obvious now, but it wasn't under 90F in the sun and I'm trying to be quick in order to not let the new wax get soft. Using only a veil for protection, I lifted the top off the Winterfell hive and started inspecting frames. I got two frames in and, due to sweat, had to suddenly tighten my grip on a frame in order to stop it from slipping. This jolted the frame and a single bee shot out like a little missile, buried herself in the top of my hand, and then grinded the stinger in deeper like she was at a club in Miami. Now, I'm no stranger to painful insect stings. Fire ants are the devil incarnate, but they're tiny and easy to brush away. It's a whole different thing when you have a full sized bee on your hand, and through the thoughts of "MOTHER OF GOD, IT BURNS!" it seems massive. It was definitely more of a surprise factor than a pain factor. I've never been stung before, so it was a bit more than I expected. That coupled with the visual of the bee on my hand, and the natural fight or flight instinct to run away from the danger, had me pretty surprised.

I did have a full frame of bees though, and dropping that would only make things worse. I lowered a corner so that it rested on another frame, then quickly (don't do that, be slow and smooth) pulled my hand back to brush the bee off. The fast movement + danger pheromone from the sting attracted three more bees right away. They started buzzing the stung hand as I lowered the frame back into the hive. After putting the frame back, I tucked the stung hand into my armpit to minimize the pheromone release and walked away from the hive, back to the van (about 30ft away).

For those that don't know, the stinger is coupled to a poison sac, that poison sac is attached to the bee's insides. The stinger is actually two serrated barbs, with the poison running down the channel between the two. Upon stinging, the whole package is torn out of the bee and the bee will die after a short time.
It really didn't hurt that much to be honest. It's just the newness of it and the reactionary "Oh crap!" of the primitive part of the brain. I ended up watching the poison sac pulsate for a few seconds because it was neat, then scraped it out with a credit card.

No time to lick wounds though, there's work to be done! Unfortunately my smoker was being a pain in the butt, so I just tossed on the jacket and gloves to get the rest done. The leather of the gloves will cover up the smell so that the bees don't get stressed from smelling the alarm chemicals.

Back at the hive, the next frame was the main honey frame. Wow this was heavier than I remembered. The outer side, which had nothing before, was now solid honey! As tempting as it is to steal some honey, they really need it to continue expanding at maximum efficiency. Plus I picked up some avocado honey from the supplier visit, can't wait to dig into that once my tongue heals up from it's hot sauce chemical burns. Long and unrelated story, but I tried the hottest sauce at Tijuana Flats, ow. Next up was what used to be a honey frame. The inner side now had eggs and capped brood. Just look at that solid laying pattern! That's what a healthy queen looks like, solid sheets of young from the same timeframe of laying. That really is beautiful to see, and photos just don't do it justice. Also, that funky looking, protruding circle cell is a drone cell. It's just being built off of a normal sized cell. Drone cells are good at this stage! This means they are happy with how much food they've built up, the health of the hive, and are confident in their queen. Drones (males) do no work whatsoever, they just sit around eating and being freeloaders. They do fly around looking for a queen to mate with, but if they're kicked out then they will go to a Drone Congregation Area to hang out with their bros.

This is the frame opposite of the one above, frame three. This frame has been freshly drawn out with wax and has a freshly laid sheet of eggs interspersed with a very small scattering of late stage larvae (the white filled cells). It looks like the queen passed over this frame while it was being made and decided a few cells were built up enough to lay few eggs. Five or six days later she came back to this frame, nodded her approval, and laid down a sheet of eggs. I'm actually really happy with how this picture came out and am probly going to make it my background. I love the angles and design of the comb, so precise but still organic. The lines formed in the corners make it a bit trippy too.

I did find the queen herself, not because I was looking for her, but just because there was a clump of bees on the side. She always has an entourage so I briefly scan any clump of bees I see. It's also just getting easier to pick her out by subconscious recognition.

Overall, I'm VERY very happy with these bees! Even if it was the "domesticated" bees that stung me first, and not the two feral (and supposedly more africanized) bees haha. I saw one hive beetle, but I'm pretty sure that's only due to having walked away with the cover off after getting stung. The beetle got contained to the lip of the hive by the bees, where I happily crunched it with my thumb. After crushing it in front of the guard bee assigned to it, the guard seemed to be like "Oh, hey thanks, time to take a break" and then just walked back into the hive without inspecting my thumb. It seemed pretty funny in the moment, maybe it was just being dehydrated, shot up with bee venom, and on an endorphin rush.

Pests: One beetle (dead, most likely from leaving cover off for a few mins and walking away), Bees: 5 frames of bees, Brood: 5 frame (E, L, CB, Drone) small number of drone cells, Honey: 3 frames, Pollen: mixed well among brood frames, Syrup: not currently being fed