Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Swarm - 03/12/2012

So it was about 2:00pm, the temperature was right and the bees were in flight when the call came. "There is a swirl of bees!!!"  After a brief discussion and being happy I had just purchased the necessary equipment to make yet one more hive, I headed to the action. 
When I arrived, I could see the bees were in a very neat cluster.

We proceeded to ready our new deep brood box to receive the swarm.  To ready our brood box we did the following:
  1. Positioned the box near the swarm.  The box had a screen bottom and was up on cinder blocks so when the process was completed it could easily be picked up.
  2. All of the 10 frames were sprayed with sugar water.
  3. A hint of Lemon Grass was rubbed over frame # 5.
  4. A screen inner cover was within arms reach.
With everything ready we just had to get the swarm into the box.  Fortunately the beekeeper with me had a wonderful ladder that was just the right height.

So I climbed up the ladder and simultaneously clipped the branch with one hand and held it with another.  The trick is to gently lower the branch until you are ready to get the bees into the box and then you shake them in with one or two shakes.  The bee boss showed me this a few years back.  It is interesting to watch.  The one bee we want in the box is the queen.  She naturally goes down into the box looking for a dark spot.  Note there is a bottom screen under the box so no bees fall through.

The next part of the process is timing.  When we looked at the swarm on the tree branch they were debating.  We learned this from Dr. Thomas D. Seeley in his book "HoneyBee Democracy".  The bees were deciding where to go.  If we snag them before they take a vote, we can move them where we want.  Well, that's the theory but, of course, the bees didn't read Dr. Seeley's book.

With the bees in the box we wanted to give as many as possible a chance to join their friends.  So a pause of a minute seemed prudent.  Too long of a pause and they will orient themselves to this new location and the beekeepers rule of 2 feet  or 2 miles comes into play.  Also I put a screen top on the box to keep bees in and encourage them to cluster in the box.  Seems to work.

So if we have our timing right and a nicely prepared home for them, hopefully our new little bees want to stay. If we treat them nice we can get the bees to send out their little pheromones in front of the hive to tell their buddies, this is where we go.  A cinder block and ladder had some lost bees so we brought that over to the hive. They left their cinder block, the ladder and finally the screen to go inside.

We poured a thin sugar water solution into the Mann Lake hivetop feeder to stimulate wax and cell building.

Finally our new hive "Chet" is in for the night.

Here's hoping we got it right.

A special thanks to Dietlinde Zipkin, the beekeeper behind the lens, for all of her great photography.  In addition to taking all of the pictures, she was busy working with me in many ways to pull this off.
Bee Boy out.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Confusing Bees and installing a Hive Stand

Just returned from the NCSBA (North Carolina State Beekeepers Association). Great meeting and learned lots.  My wife and I have enjoy watching Gold Rush on the Discovery Channel.  This is about some common American guys that make lots of mistakes as they try to strike it rich by mining for Gold in Alaska.  Turns out to get an ounce of gold takes sifting through tons of material. 

One of the nuggets from the NCSBA meeting we rediscovered is the idea of confusing honeybees.  Turns out that honeybees are three dimensional navigators and when returning to their hive they don't check out the box the way we humans would.  Instead they fly to the 3 dimensional coordinates they remember and go in.  If you have been following along with us you will remember we recently captured a swarm off a rock in front of our Charlotte hive.  The swarm is a small one and the bees are just a small cluster. 
  • So how to beef up the hive? 
  • Wouldn't it be a nifty thing to get a larger hive of bees to help out the smaller one?

The plan called for us to swap the location of the larger hive with the smaller one.  When the bees from the larger hive return to their old location, the smaller hive would be there to welcome them in.  The theory goes that returning bees with pollen, nectar or propolis are welcome.  Lots of bees, lots of comb built out in a hurry so the new hive's progress is accelerated.

STEP 1 - Build and Install a new Hive Stand

STEP 2 - Confuse the bees

The reason for the new bee stand is we have larger plans for the bee yard and want to have extra room on the beehive stand.  We have gone from a 4' hive stand to 8'.  To make life easier, we put the longer stand in front of the old one. 

Once we had the larger stand in place, we proceeded to swap beehive locations.  Moving Tzion, our new swarm hive, went well.  The bees seemed to be reading their manual and nicely flying into the new hive at the old location.

Vav Hive and the problems begin - Our old hive consisted of 1 deep (brood), 1 shallow (brood), 1 shallow (honey), 1 medium (wax foundation - hey, this was all we had).  When we bought the hive about a year ago, we hated the wooden ware.  A nice warm spring day seemed like just the opportunity to move our bees into clean new wooden ware and a screen bottom.  We went from 9 frames to 10 deep frames with 2 new frames installed and 1 old frame removed. Spotted 3 supersedure cells but didn't have the gear to split the hive.  UGH!

The deep move completed - We moved, shook and brushed bees into the new box praying we didn't roll our queen.  Thinking about it, with all of the queen cells, this was an okay time since we had tons of bees and new queens on the way. Few hive beetles and no mites to speak of.

The bees hated us.
      Smoke and a blizzard of bees.

You will probably disagree with our decision but we added a deep with new frames above the old deep.  We like deep brood boxes and think shallows don't provide enough room for the bees.

Shallow of brood, shallow of honey and an medium to build out for honey and we were done.

Did we kill our bees in both hives?

Time will tell.

Bee Boy Out.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Simply Bee

Not lots to say here. A new beekeeper and great photographer sent these my way and thought you might like to see them as well.

Finally found the maple trees
Look carefully in the middle of the picture to see our little honeybee closing in on the maple tree blossom.

Myrtle Spurge

New & Older colony of bees
Sure hope our new swarm makes it.
Photos are courtesy of Dietlinde Zipkin.

Bee Boy Out

Monday, March 5, 2012

500 mile warranty or the life of a Honeybee

As my wife and I go into our third year as beekeepers, we continue to not only learn but to relearn about beekeeping.  We have gained some new beekeeper friends that are just starting out and have wisely chosen to take a class from our local bee club. (Mecklenburg County Beekeepers Association) As we discuss beekeeping with our new friends we find ourselves saying, "Yea, we learned that a few years ago but some of the details aren't so fresh."  My wife, my queen bee, is always on the lookout for more bee knowledge and brings me along to add another set if eyes and ears.  Recently we have started to listen to podcasts that are extremely helpful to both refresh and expand our beekeeping knowledge.  Below are my notes from a recent podcast.  Feel free to go over and listen to it for yourself.  Any comments or things I misheard are welcome.  http://www.bkcorner.org/pages/episodes/episode-026.asp

So what are the numbers again on a honeybee?
American Bee Journal Feb 2012 pg 131

21 Days - It takes 21 days on average for a worker bee to become an adult.

3   Days in the egg stage    Day 0   - Day 3  (Queen determined here. Best on day 1.)
6   Days in the larva stage   Day 4   - Day 9
12 Days in the Pupa stage  Day 10 - Day 21

Honeybee warranty beegins (About 38 days in summer or 500 miles) 

If you listen to the podcast, Kevin Inglin does a great job detailing the life of a honeybee once she emerges until her final flight. 

4   Days - New bee                            Day 1 - 4
8   Days - Nurse bee                          Day  5 - 12
9   Days - Middle Aged Bee (MAB)      Day 13 - 21
17 Days - Forager bee                        Day 22 - Day 38

Please note these are average days and are subject to change depending on the environment. (temperature, abundance of food, abundance of workers in the colony, overall health of the colony)

New Bee jobs -  New bees mostly hang out continuing to develop and cleaning their cell.  They spend time sleeping as they develop.

Nurse Bee jobs - Nurse bees feed the queen, brood and foragers.  Turns out that in addition to Queen pheromone, there is also Brood pheromone.  According to Kevin's information, it acts as the fountain of youth for bees.  The closer to the brood pheromone, the longer they live.  That is one explanation for the length of life of a winter bee which can bee as long as 200 days.

Honey bees deposit vitellogenin molecules in fat bodies in their abdomen and heads. The fat bodies apparently acts as a food storage reservoir. The glycolipoprotein vitellogenin has additional functionality as it acts as an antioxidant to prolong Queen bee and forager lifespan as well as a hormone that affects future foraging behavior.[1] The health of a honey bee colony is dependent upon the vitellogenin reserves of the nurse bees - the foragers having low levels of vitellogenin. As expendable laborers, the foragers are fed just enough protein to keep them working their risky task of collecting nectar and pollen. Vitellogenin levels are important during the nest stage and thus influence honey bee worker division of labor.
A nurse bee's vitellogenin titer that developed in the first four days after emergence, affects its subsequent age to begin foraging and whether it preferentially forages for nectar or pollen. If young workers are short on food their first days of life, they tend to begin foraging early and preferentially for nectar. If they are moderately fed, they forage at normal age preferentially for nectar. If they are abundantly fed, immediately after emergence, their vitellogenin titer is high and they begin foraging later in life, preferentially collecting pollen. Pollen is the only available protein source for honey bees.

Middle Age Bees (MAB) jobs -  These bees are best at comb creation, guarding the hive and receiving nectar.

Forager Bee jobs - Finally we get to the last stage of a worker bee's life.  They literally work from sunrise to sundown gathering pollen, nectar and propolis.  They also act as guard bees after they return to the hive at night to sleep.  Foragers literally work themselves to death.  As their wings wear out, it works their little flight muscles more and more.  According to Kevin's information, the muscles last about 500 miles worth of flight. 

Push pull phenomenon - According to Kevin's information, bees can change jobs to a certain extent.  If there are insufficient foragers, MABs are drafted.  Too many foragers, they can revert back to a MAB.  The closer to the brood, the more of the elixir of life.  So adult bees are pushed through the different stages of life but can bee pulled back as needed, to a certain extent.  I don't think a bee can go from forager to new bee.

Wow, how miraculous.

Final question for beekeepers to debate.  Design or Chance?  If you are a Darwinian evolutionist I would love to hear your explanation of all of this. If you believe in a supreme omnipotent being, I think I know your answer.  According to Occam's razor the simplest approach is usually the correct one.  Guess we could ponder this for quite awhile.

Bee Boy out...

Oh, for more information, here is a great book.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Honeybee wrestling or our first swarm

I have worked with the Bee Boss over the past two years and have watched him wrestle bees.  I guess for real beekeepers the term would be going on a "swarm call".  So yesterday was a nice 75 +  degree Fahrenheit day and I wanted to check out our Charlotte bee yard which is located in the backyard of some new friends and new beekeepers.  I put the call out to our friend and she said "sounded good".  A short time later I received a happily frantic call with the news that there was a swarm in one of the nearby trees.  The bee wrestling/wrangling had begun.

It took me about an hour to load up the bee mobile. A second call from her indicated there might be 2 swarms so I had to come up with additional gear for a possible second swarm.  The good news was that everything was close to the ground.

When I arrived to assess the situation, one of the swarms had vanished.  Upon closer inspection it appeared that perhaps the bees had been overzealous and gone out on a limb so to speak on one of the swarm locations. My wife and I discussed theories as to why bees would swarm on a warm stone on the ground rather than in a high tree branch.  Perhaps, once again, those darn bees had not read their bee manual and were not swarming the  "right way".

So with assistance from my new bee assistant,  we shook the stones and bees over a new hive body.  I had prepped the hive body by spraying the frames with sugar water.  There appeared to be a flurry of bees but they started clustering in the hive. I put a screen top over the hive but to the bees, screen schmeem.  I gently attempted brushing them into the box to no avail.  My next plan of attack was to spray them with sugar water and gently use a dust pan and escort them one by one into the new hive.  My thinking here was that if we got enough bees inside the hive, their little pheromones would kick in with the come home scent and the rest of the swarm would join them.

When I left, there were a few bees flying in and out but not enough to convince me we had a queen, the bees were happy and they would stay.  Give it a day or so and we'll see.

Bee boy out.