Monday, June 3, 2013

Hive Inspections: Queens, Queens Everywhere (And Rain)

   It's been raining... a lot. For anyone not in Florida, I don't think you can truly grasp our levels of rainfall. We may as well have had a tropical storm sitting over this part of the State for the last week. Normally that's not a big deal. It's nice to stay in and read a book to the relaxing sound of the rain. However, it wasn't so fun now that I'm keeping bees. The girls were rearing and ready to go each morning, stretching their wings while clustering at the hive entrance and zooming out over the lake.

   However, almost like clockwork, at 10am it would start drizzling. The foraging bees would all start returning, and soon enough there was heavy rain coming down. During the worst of the flash-rains there would be bees flying through rain so thick, and consisting of such giant raindrops, that there wasn't even 100ft of visibility. Occasionally some would get shot down only a few feet from the hive, and one day I scooped at least 30 bees off of the ground and surrounding puddles. I'm sure they could get out on their own, eventually, but I was there to help them so I figured "why not?". Their delicate wings would get stuck to the ground by the surface tension of the water, so I picked them up instead of letting the toads have a buffet.

   Eventually, the rain would slack off or stop for short periods of time throughout the day. However, I'm sure the bees can sense the change in barometric pressure and know that the rain isn't finished yet. So at every opportunity they would just swarm the feeder jar on top of the hive. Both patio hives went through full jars of syrup in 48 hours, and, one particularly rainy day, the larger of the two patio hives chugged 3/4 of a jar in one day!

  This was a pretty normal sight for every afternoon, bees all over the jar lid and others walking around below picking up any spillage. On the day that they chugged 3/4 of a jar, this entire area between the wood bars was practically swarmed by the bees. If they couldn't forage, then by golly they were going to do their best to empty that jar!

Casterly Rock

   Speaking of the patio hives, I've decided upon a name for the most recent feral hive, Casterly Rock. These are the girls that I had cut out from the giant tree pot, and this is their queen! She's a beautiful, dark scarlet and practically blood red. What a badass. If it wasn't for pulling frames of brood for the Dothraki to make a queen from, they'd be my #1 hive in terms of frames filled out + number of bees. They're definitely still #1 in population, but a bit behind Winterfell due to the frame borrowing. I have no doubt that they'll surpass Winterfell as soon as the constant rain slacks off. It probably helps that whenever they're out of syrup, I'll go and make them a fresh jar. Winterfell on the other hand is not being fed very often, and I've actually stopped feeding them, for the moment, in order to pull a frame of honey in the near future.

   If you're wondering why I'm so confident with Casterly Rock, just take a look at this frame. This is a thing of beauty right here! That whole top row of white is finished honey, the row of orange underneath is pollen/bee bread (a fermented mixture of nectar + pollen + bee enzymes) that is used to feed the young, the entire rest of the frame progresses from eggs in the empty looking cells, to young larvae, to mature larvae, back to young larvae, and then finally more eggs. I can't wait to see this frame all capped up. It's going to be an almost solid sheet of capped honey, filled cells of bee bread, and capped brood.
Pests: none, Brood: 5 frames (Eggs/Larvae/CappedBrood/Drone, another frame given to Dothraki) with solid laying pattern, Honey: 2 frames (Honey only), Syrup: 3 mason jars in one week


   FINALLY, the Dothraki have a Khaleesi (queen)! I knew that virgin queen from the other week had been stung to death! Doubts were starting to creep in that maybe she hadn't been stung, that maybe she was their victorious queen, but had been injured/gotten sick while on a maiden flight. Nope, that virgin queen had indeed been on the losing side of the May 2013 Khaleesi Thunderdome.

   Sorry for the poor picture quality by the way. I'll get a better picture in two weeks. I'm going to leave them as undisturbed as possible, that way the new queen will feel secure and be confident going full steam with egg laying. I didn't see any eggs today. However, queens start out laying slowly, and ramp up their rates of egg laying as they mature. I also didn't inspect her frame (the last frame actually) all that thoroughly, because I didn't want to spook her into flying off.

   Lots of honey built up by these girls, lots of pollen stored away, and lots of drawn out comb (mostly thanks to pulling from Casterly Rock). Funny thing is that two days ago I had pulled a full frame of brood + eggs from Casterly rock to give to the Dothraki. I had inspected this hive for a queen and hadn't found one. So apparently she must have been out on her maiden flight or I simply hadn't found her. No clue. I was extremely surprised to see her today!

   The Dothraki are set to start exploding in productivity. I did see three hives beetles in there however... I attribute that to having low numbers until only recently. Two of them were crushed, and the third one escaped behind a frame before I could put down the frame that I was inspecting. I'll get that little bastard next time.

Pests: Three hive beetles (two dead, one escaped deeper into the hive), Brood: 4 "Super" frames (Larvae/CappedBrood), Honey: 1 frames (Honey and Pollen), Syrup: 2 mason jars in one week


She thinks hive inspection day is great. It means at least an hour of hunting lizards and running around. Time for another nail trim too!


   These girls are doing really well. They've been stockpiling honey and pollen for entire time that their queen was maturing. Pictured above is a "free form" Super frame of 90% capped honey. It's tempting to steal a small piece to try it, but it's not worth setting them back at all. Not to mention that they've been fed syrup pretty regularly, so chances are it wouldn't taste very strong in comparison to legit honey.

   Speaking of feeding... I'm going to have to build a real hive stand for the bee yard. I noticed that they were draining their feeder rather quickly. Upon closer inspection there were some ants walking around near the entrance. After pulling the feeder jar out I could see a good twenty or so fire ants on and around the feeder. Argh I hate ants! They weren't invading the hive since there were cracks in the plastic feeder that they could fit through, so no problem there, but that's food for MY bees, not you ants!

   So how to fix that? It's pretty simple. I'm going to have to go pick up some 2x4s to assemble into a long frame with six legs (two on each end, two in the center), and sit each leg in a can of water & motor oil. That way the ants won't be able to cross the liquid and climb onto the legs of the stand. It's just going to take some elbow grease to make it happen.

   The Wildlings have also been drinking again (typical Wildlings), and have gone to work drunk. Look at this crazy comb that they've built. Pretty awesome to look at, not so awesome in terms of functionality and organization. I had to scrape it off with my hive tool and set the pieces at the hive entrance for them to clean out the collected nectar. Other than that though, great looking hive! I set them up with a Deep as their second stage, the first stage is a Super. Once they start filling out the top then I can change around the order, with the Deep on bottom and the Super on top. THEN I can move the queen into the Deep, with the queen excluder on top of it. That way the brood comb can hatch out completely, and the queen can continue laying down below. Once the brood comb in the Super is completely hatched out I can remove it completely, and put a second Deep on so that it goes Stage 1: Deep, Stage 2: Deep, and they'll have their full strength hive body. Everything else on top will purely be for clean honey production. 

Pests: One hive beetles (crushed), Brood: 5 frames (Eggs/Larvae/CappedBrood) with solid laying pattern, Honey: 2 frames (Honey only), Syrup: 1 mason jars in one week


   Winterfell has drones! How cool is that?! The one in the center of the picture with the fat abdomen, larger wings, and eyes similar to house fly is a drone. Just think of those massive eyes as the goggles of a fighter pilot. Their whole physiology is based around mid-air acrobatics in order to be the first to link up with a virgin queen. Even if afterwards their whole "situation" gets ripped out of their bodies. Afterwards they'll die... still a better love story than Twilight.

   Their feeder was removed from inside the second Deep and replaced with the last three frames. Other than that, I didn't bother them too much. They had spread well throughout the second Deep and had a good amount of surface area covered when I took the inner cover off. It seems the feeder encouraged them to start moving through the queen excluder too, since there was a bit of wax buildup on a few second stage frames. They still have three frames in the first stage to fill out, so I'm not too concerned about it. The main purpose of the second stage being put on this soon is to inhibit swarming. 

   Swarming is when the original queen takes off with half the hive to start a new hive, while the remaining bees raise a new queen to continue the original hive. Swarming will occur when they run out of space to expand, and feel "cluttered". So to avoid that it's best to add another Deep or Super on top when they've reached 7 frames. That gives the beekeeper plenty of leeway instead of waiting an extra two or three weeks, and then it's suddenly critical that the next stage is added immediately.

   I didn't do a thorough inspection of them, since that would require taking off the lightly populated second stage, taking off the queen excluder, and then going through the first stage. There is already one dead hive directly across from this one, on the next pallet over. That one has pretty much just been a beetle farm from the looks of it. If the covers are kept off for more than ten minutes then I'll start getting beetles flying over to land on the lip of the hives, it's disgusting. I'll be moving all of my hives to a different area of the property once the stands are finished. 

   Winterfell is strong enough now that there isn't much to worry about with them, outside of ant infestation and varroa. So they'll be fine to go for another week without invasive inspection. I did, however, see one beetle land at the entrance after placing a piece of nectar/honey-filled stray comb at the entrance for the girls to clean out. The smell must have attracted the beetle. Winterfell proved it's mettle though, with the guard bees blocking off the beetle from the entrance and chasing it up the exterior of the hive. I grabbed it as soon as I could and crushed it. 

Notes from gazing down through the queen excluder:
Pests: One hive beetle (crushed, attempted to enter by the front entrance, was blocked by guard bees and chased up the side of the hive box where it met it's fate), Brood: 6 frames (Eggs/Larvae/CappedBrood/Drone) with assumed solid laying pattern, Honey: 2 frames, possibly 3 by now (Honey only), Syrup: 1 mason jar in three days

   This has truly been an excellent week for the bees. Two new queens in two weeks, second stages added to both Wildlings and Winterfell, Dothraki having massive stores of bee bread for the new babies, and Casterly Rock being ready for a move to the bee yard where they will receive their second stage. I can finally sleep completely soundly without any stressing over queenless hives falling behind.

   Not just that, but a good friend of mine has decided to help me out with a logo for the upcoming wax products (lip balm, etc) and honey. I can't wait to show her design off! Exciting stuff!