The Nuc has her queen!

We inspected our hives today; the goal for the Nuc was to find evidence of the queen laying, find the queen, and mark her.

Success!

Though we did not find signs of a laying queen in the Nuc (in fact, some swarm research says that signs of a missing queen include the workers back-filling brood cells with food (pollen, honey, sugar-syrup), and that is exactly what we saw.)

But, there are a LOT of bees in that Nuc, and we found our queen, and marked her (Yellow for 2017); we believe she is mated, based on the size of her abdomen; we have had some rainy days, so that probably explains why she is later in laying than expected (which is also what we found to expect in our research).  We’ll continue to feed this Nuc, but we are not going to open it up for another 2 weeks.

In the other hives (Blue and Yellow), it appears that the queens have slowed down their laying; we still see young larvae, and saw both of the queens, but there’s a lot of empty cells…. Perhaps it’s part of the cycle, and we just had a bunch of brood emerge?… We’ll just have to be comfortable with letting them handle this…

 

Feeding results, and we hope it’s not too late to make a Nuc

These bees are going through a TON of sugar; we have refilled their feeders 11 times with 1:1 sugar syrup (1 cup sugar : 1 cup water mixture), but they are drawing out comb nicely, are storing their sugar syrup, and are certainly gaining weight.

Bee-Stuff weights are now up over 100 lbs; very nice! (Wish we would not have stopped feeding them and been a bit more scientific about stopping the initial feeding).

As far as feeding goes, our experience here is that count on needing 2.5 lbs of sugar per frame in order to help a new colony build out comb.

 

Now, look at the queen cell below (from 3 June 2017); this came from our “Yellow” hive.

We sought much advice, and decided that if we saw more (after destroying the last batch), we would try and get the bees to think they had swarmed, by taking the frames with the queen cells, pollen, honey, and bees, and put them into an 8 frame Nuc, and let the queens emerge, then putting new frames into Yellow to give them more room.

We might have missed the boat (but the story ends well)… We were inspecting and noticed that Yellow seem to have a lot less bees. I checked the Broodminder weight, and saw that 30 minutes after our last week’s inspection, we saw an 8 lb drop in weight, followed by a 6 lb gain in weight over the next day; sure looks like they swarmed out of Yellow.

Our plan was to inspect on Saturday, look for evidence of no queen, and plan on getting a new queen (or see if Blue is creating queen cells).

Much to our surprise, we found our Yellow queen, and capped queen cells (again). So, we enacted our Nuc plan.

We talked about our experience with some old-time beekeepers, and the puzzle as to why we were observing what we did; they figured what must have happened is that they swarmed, and then came back (they had seen this happen before); I think we are very lucky.

Now we just hope it’s not too late in the season for this Nuc to start running with a new queen. We’ll feed the Nuc and basically not touch it for about 3 weeks (~7 days for a queen to emerge from a capped queen cell, ~ 5 days to fly and mate, ~ 3 days to start laying).

 

Why are our hives losing weight (our 2nd mistake)?

Since we use the Broodminder weight devices, I’ve been getting weight readings from the hives regularly, and I’ve taken care to determine what our tare weight is, based on how we add and take away equipment.

When we first installed our hives, we added top feeders; then when we inspected on day 3, we saw that the sugar water in the top feeders was hardly touched (but we were not very scientific about it), so we dumped the sugar water, and took off the feeders.

Then…. I noticed that we had good weight gain, until we removed the feeders; then we struggled a bit with what was going on…  even though the loss was very gradual, we asked “Why would a hive lose weight?” Or, “Why would a hive stop gaining weight?”

Here are some theories:

1. The bees are feeding and eating more than they bring in.

2. We are losing bees (die – off)

3. The hives are being robbed (beegled…. cause it’s almost like burgled… instead of burglars, we have beeglars).

4. Something (skunk?) is eating our bees.

 

Based on some things we observed, I think we may have removed feed too early, AND we have some robbing (dead bees that look like some other kind of bee, no fuzz (cause fighting knocks the fuzz off).

 

So, we decided to go after all the possibilities

1. The bees are feeding and eating more than the bring in:

Feed the bees; though our brood pattern looks fantastic (the queen is even laying up in the 2nd box), they are not drawing out all the comb as expected), they probably could use the extra energy to build comb, and it probably won’t hurt anything.

 

2. We are losing bees (die-off):

All we can do is monitor the dead bees that we can see around the hives, inside the hive, and monitor for swarming behaivors.

 

3. The hives are being robbed.

Based on some of the behavior I’ve seen (bees fighting, bees looking for other entrances, dead bees), I think this is likely.

Reduce the entrances to the hives; we put the entrance reducers to the smallest opening possible.

 

4. Something (skunk?) is eating our bees.

Raise the hives to be 2 concrete blocks high (instead of just one), and install carpet tack strips to the front of the hives (to help deter skunks getting their paws onto the hive).

AND, install a field camera, to take pictures of critters, etc. (What is coming around our hives?)

 

Today (Saturday), we did all of those things.

I will save the discussion of Yellow Hive, the single queen cell we found, our mite count test, etc. for another time…..

I hope you can gain something useful out of this; I will let you know how this all turns out….

One of our first mistakes

So I was going to the bee yard, everyday, observing (leaving the hives alone), and taking Broodminder readings; we noticed the inside humidity was fluctuating on both hives, and we saw some bearding on the outside of the hives; then it dawned on us…..

We have screened bottom boards, but we forgot to remove the mite boards from them, and the airflow was a bit restricted; so, we removed the mite-boards, and opened up the entrance reducers to the next size.

We had to get to the hives anyway, because today was when we decided to remove the queen excluders that we had put at the bottom of the hives (between the bottom board and the bottom of the brood box (the bottom-most box)), to ensure the queens did not leave over the first couple of days.

This should make it a bit easier on the bees to regulate the inside conditions.

Our Bees Have Arrived!

You are looking at 1 frame of bees (out of 8 frames) from our overwintered Nucs that we put into our Blue Hive today! Strong; we are very happy with how this has turned out, especially compared to the experience of installing (and tracking) packages at the Ohio State Open Bee Yard.

When we picked them up, Dan Williams found our queens, showed them both to us, put them into protective transport cages, while he transferred frames from his nucs into our boxes. Then he put the queen cages back into our hives, we strapped them into the truck, and drove them to our bee-yard (about 50 miles away).

We showed up with our Blue and Yellow hives (screened bottom boards, 10 frame, Mediums, 10 wax and wired foundation frames, inner cover, telescoping lid, and queen excluder between the bottom board and the first (and only) medium box).

We (Anita) had to reach into this mass of bees to let the queens out when we got them into our bee yard. (That was an experience that Anita was just fine at doing for us both).

Dan advised that Blue was probably ready for another super, so we put another Medium with 10 frames of wax and wired foundation, before we finished closing up Blue.

 

And this is Anita holding one of the frames in Yellow hive. Chock-full of bees; good pattern, good brood, pollen, honey, etc.

We installed top feeders with wire mesh so that the bees can be fed without bees getting out, 1 gallon of sugar-syrup each, we removed the inner covers, and put the telescoping lids on.

We have our Broodminder devices all ready to go, so I’ll give it a few days, then describe how those are working out, and how these hives are behaving. We’ll have to come back in a couple of days to remove the queen excluders.

The Real-Live part of the journey has finally begun!

Spring is here and Broodminder is pretty cool…

Haven’t written in a while; we’ve been continuing our research, and preparing for our bees… A few weeks ago, we went to Conrads Farm (cool place) and hung out with the bees, as he demo-ed a package install.

We pickup our Nucs this coming Saturday (Yay!)

Here are some early spring pictures of our bee yard, and some of the flowers we see… I’m trying to determine if any of the Prairie seeds we planted in December are sprouting, but I have no idea what I’m doing!

I can recognize only one of the flowers that are in the pictures above (the wild strawberry), so if you have any idea what the others are, please share.

Began fiddling with the Broodminder products that I bought at the conference at Tolles Technical (in Plain City) during winter. Really neat product. I didn’t know that the weight unit also provides external temperature and external humidity. So, with the “complete” units that we bought, we get hive-internal humidity and temperature data AND external humidity and temperature data, and hive weight; this is going to be a cool way to quantify what our hives are doing.

So, with Broodminder, you install the app on your iPhone, walk by the hives, select the unit,  and sync up. You have the option to sync real-time, or on the device’s schedule (which you can also set to 5, 15, or 60 minutes recording time); really cool. Then, you can upload data to the “beekeeper.io” site, or you can export a .csv (Excel) OR the sql-lite database format (you email it).

Here is my only issue though: we were building an empty hive with the Broodminder weight unit, to get a record of how much the equipment weighs (an empty, painted, no frames, 10 frame, medium super weighs (for example) about 3.16 pounds), and we setup the device to provide real-time data; cool right? Then I exported the .csv data, AND the sql-lite data (whole database)….

Well, let’s just say that after seeing the lack of complete data in the .csv file, and AFTER I installed DBBrowser for SQLite (for Mac of course), I discovered that the data is complete in the database, but the .csv data is certainly lacking……..So, my advice is to get your favorite data reader for SQLite, and export / email THAT format of data, so as to not to be disappointed.

Other than that, I do like the Broodminder products and would recommend them; now let’s see how long these batteries last.

I will take pictures and hopefully have more data to share starting Saturday (when we get out bees)!!!

Waiting, Learning, Pondering, and how Nucs may change everything

I haven’t bee-logged in a while (not much has been happening while we wait for winter to end), some of my friends have noticed, so here’s my latest thoughts and updates.

This picture shows the nucs that have just arrived, with a medium super on the top to give perspective; these are 5 frame, medium nucs, that are just as long as a normal 10 frame medium Langstroth box.

The feeders are pretty cool; hive tops, with closed panels, so the bees don’t really need to be disturbed for feeding.

Why am I getting Nuc Hives?

I had the pleasure of listening to (Judge) Dan O’Hanlon speak at the Tri-County Beekeeper’s Association meeting up in Wooster last month, while he described his experiences with resource hives, hives in general, and Nucs (nuclear colonies). He quoted someone in our beekeeping history (I don’t recall who) and sold me on it entirely; his quote was along the lines of “every problem in the bee yard can be solved by moving bees into, or out of a nuc”.

So, as you can see in the picture above, I’m preparing to have 2 nucs ready. There are details, but basically if I see queen cells in my new hives (especially near capping), split into a nuc; if I have a nuc, overwinter it, and if it grows strong (and looks like it might swarm), move some of them into another nuc or hive; catch a swarm, put it into a nuc; if I have too many bees, sell off one of the nucs, etc…. Beekeeping is changing.

If you monitor any of the sites that track Honey prices, you’ll see what all the beekeepers are saying… There’s not much $money in Honey anymore (if that’s why you are keeping bees); if you want to make $money in Honey Bees, then your bees are already coming back from pollinating the California Almond crop (it is pretty lucrative to rent your hives to farmers who need pollinators), and they are moving onto Apples, etc. in the Pacific Northwest, OR, you are making bees to sell to folks like me.

Many of the beekeepers are moving their operations to handle only Nucs; interesting.

I’m not in it for the $money, but I do want to be a successful Beekeeper, so that includes having strong and healthy hives; Nuc hives are a part of that plan.

Judge O’Hanlon also discussed what he is doing with developing Varroa Mite resistant queens; see his site at Mountain State Queens; he’s onto something; we all can learn a lot from Judge Dan O’Hanlon. If you ever get the chance to hear him speak, I urge you to do so; he is extremely smart, entertaining, knows his bees, and toys with his own caricature of what it means to be a Mountaineer!

By the way, I’ve been visiting our bee yard, hoping that all this warm weather would cause some of our prairie flowers we planted in December to start growing; but I see nothing yet; I bet in a week we see signs… I’ll keep you posted.

Right now, I’m just working through “Bee School”, and waiting for the call to come get our bees (nucs); that isn’t expected to happen until May.

Our Flow Hive has arrived!

We are going to have 2 hives to start, so we are going to have 2 plans for honey harvesting as well; one of the hives will have “regular” comb-honey supers, and the other will have a Flow Hive.

I was going to wait until later to order it, but they were running a special, so I went ahead and got the 7 unit flow super (it’s for a 10 frame Langstroth) and a super box from them; said it would ship in 7 days, but we had it in less than 7 days…. Ours shipped out of Memphis…

Nuff said…  See the video…

 

The Bees we are getting (and Ankle Biters don’t bite your ankles)

So, I get an email from the Bee guy up near Findlay about Nucs, but I thought I had emailed him already; apparently I hadn’t. He has some nice stock;  some Latshaw hybrids, with some Ankle Biters and Buckfast mixed in.

I first heard the term “Ankle Biters”, at the very first Bee seminar we went to (the Ohio State Beekeepers Association in November of 2016); I remember thinking, “Ankle Biters? Shoot, I don’t want those kinds of Bees; I’ll have to wear boots; it must really hurt to get stung in the ankles! That’s crazy; why would the bees go for your ankles?!”. Ha Ha, but I’m not trying to be funny; I actually thought that.

After researching, I learned that Ankle Biters were developed by Purdue University, and have the behavior of biting off the legs of the Varroa mites, the mites can’t hang on, fall to the bottom board of the hive (or through the lower mesh if you have that setup), and starve and die. Some beekeepers report good success.

That is only part of the problem though, in that the mites love to go after brood too, and attach themselves to the larvae; once the bee cell is capped, the mite will stay there and thrive.

So, I looked again at the literature on the bees we are getting, and feel really good about the Nucs we’ve ordered. These are based on stock that have survived a lot of stress that include being shipped by truck for pollination, and having to deal with Varroa mites; seems that they go after the mites in brood cells, and have other surviving qualities.

The layman’s description of our bees is here, and the more scientific description is here.

Some cool sites on these bees include:

Enjoy!

 

 

Bees as endangered species?

The US Fish and Wildlife Service has recently listed the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee as an endangered species (see the fact sheet); that brings the total number of Bee species listed as endangered to date at 8.

In September 2016, the Service listed a group of 7 yellow-faced bees in Hawaii as the first bees in the country to be protected under the Endangered Species Act (see the Federal Register). You can also read a nice article at the Xerces Society website.

Now the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee has the notoriety of being the 1st Bee within the continental United States declared as endangered.

I hope we are not witnessing the beginning of a tragedy in our lifetime, but it is troubling to note that this is the first time since 1967 (50 years) that Bees have been listed as endangered; however, these are not the first pollinators to be listed, as we have bestowed that honor to some of our Butterflies.

This is a good thing for Honey Bees as well because it aligns additional resources and more sense of urgency to some of the same issues that may eventually land other bees onto the list.

Interestingly, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has ECOS (The Environmental Conservation Online System) where you can peruse its listings of threatened and endangered species; a bit slow, but very informative…

Today was planting day

Had an atypical day; temperature was up to 70 degrees (F); it was cold before today and will be cold after; perfect day for a December planting of bee-friendly prairie flowers.

We planted about 2000 square feet of:

  • West Virginia Beekeepers Seed Mix
  • Ohio Pollinator Oasis Seed Mix
  • Lemon Mint
  • Sky Blue Aster
  • Sneezeweed (Helen’s Flower)
  • Blue False Indigo
  • Partridge Pea

www.ohioprairienursery.com is where I sourced all the seeds; easy to navigate site, fast delivery.

I’ll take pictures in the Spring; they say it could take 2 seasons before the prairie really takes off; we shall see.

Man, I’m going to be sore tomorrow (lots of raking ground today)…

Bee Yard looking East:

Bee Yard looking North-ish:

Resting in the Bee Yard:

Our Bee Crisis

Due to having some vacation time (where I’ve been totally unproductive), I’ve caught up on some movies, documentaries, and Bee DVDs that I’ve been wanting to watch.

We just watched “More Than Honey” – Imhoof, and there are some things there that are interesting, and disturbing.

Disturbing (for example) is the displayed mindset of the South Dakota migratory beekeeper, who is in the California almond grove; he’s dangerously misguided, and confuses his selfishness and greed with capitalism; there is a difference between being a capitalist, and being a bad person.

Disturbing also is the plight of the honey bee here in the US. We have lost our minds in this situation, and the USDA, and the almond growers are not solving this issue effectively (but have probably a very large impact in having created it).

I know this problem with our bees (disease, shorter queen life, diversity, etc.) is multifaceted; however, this concept of mono-farming mixed with mega-farming is just a thread away from turning catastrophic with regards to our food supply and our pollinators; it’s not a sustainable cycle, and it will break. The question is not if it will break, but when it will break. Shipping bees from all over the country to California for the almond crop is not natural and is having negative effects on our entire honey bee population; it helps to spread disease (it is certainly not helping to contain disease), and does not scale. The almond growers need to develop their land in ways that enable sustainable farming; same with apples and other crops.

After watching that video, here’s where my thoughts go:

  • I am boycotting almonds; I won’t support them until the almond growers become more responsible.
  • I will greatly resist treating my bees with chemicals; though it might seem that we would “help” them, it really makes them more dependent, and weaker (not stronger).
  • I will not EVER put my bees on a truck and haul them to a farm that uses pesticides, fungicides, etc.
  • If I ever put bees on a truck and haul them to a farm, it will be to permanently place them there, to help the farmer sustain.

I will probably never be that guy who puts his bees on a truck and hauls them to a farm for pollination; it’s just not my thing.

I think I’m turning into a “tree-hugging hippie”… 🙁

Ordered our first Nucs

Went through the Ohio State Beekeepers Association list of Bee Nuc suppliers, and contacted each of them; Nucs (Nuclear Colony) typically have to be picked up, so proximity is a factor, as is the type of bees they have, availability, and the certainty they have about having bees in the Spring.

All things considered, I’m going with William’s Bee Farm near Frankfort. (http://williamshoneybees.webs.com/ and https://www.facebook.com/WilliamsHoneyBees). Dan was responsive, and seems to know his stuff; some of the email interchange:

“My overwintered nucs either have VSH Pol-lines or VSH Carniolans in them. Pol-lines are more italian like, more information can be found online about them. Both the VSH strains were developed by the USDA and are being propagated by VP Queen bees where I obtain my pure Instrumental inseminated breeding stock. I run a sustainable operation and only replace my losses with my own nucs. The mating yards are flooded with drones from overwintered colonies. So the pol-lines and carniolans are both mated with high quality drones from my area from Italian and Carniolan lines. This results in a worker force that is both genetic diverse and accustomed to my conditions. ”

I like what I’ve researched on these (though a close second was some Ankle-biters and Buckfast from a Beekeeper up nearer to Cleveland; if these don’t work out, that will probably be my next choice). My only concern is these bees’ ability to groom themselves of the Varroa mite; is it stronger in the other types?

He’s even going to get some medium Nucs started, since most of his Nucs are in deeps, and all my equipment is mediums; we are going to start with 2 Nucs in the Spring (Yay!).

(We are keeping the bee kit we bought from Tractor Farm and Supply though (which is a deep); in case we change our minds and want to go with deeps, or need a place for a swarm or something).

Bee Garden

Anita and I have been thinking about, and designing a Bee Garden; my daughter is close and has about 3 acres, so we are going to keep the bees there instead of at our yard, so this is much better for all involved.

We’ve purchased some bee friendly seeds from Ohio Prairie Nursery, and are figuring out where to put them (www.ohioprairienursery.com); they had some really neat seed packets, endorsed by Ohio State Beekeepers Association and West Virginia Beekeepers; I got a handful of those packets, plus some others that have different blooming periods. This will help in a small way (cause you really need acres and acres of flowers for a colony), but in time, perhaps this can expand.

I’m big on perennials because of lower maintenance, but there are trade-offs with annuals; these mixes have both; hopefully, by the 2nd season, the perennials will be well-established; with more acreage, hopefully we can create a really nice place for both us and the bees.