Monday, May 18, 2009

May 18th: Hive entrance

The weather is a little cooler today, with some drizzle. I went to check the hive entrance. There were a few bees faning despite the cool weather. They had their abdomen curved in a strange way. No idea if this is normal.

Click on the picture for full size.

May 17th: at the hive entrance

After yesterday's inspection, I was a little puzzled about finding bees inside the quilt, burrowing in the wood chips, and then getting stuck under the roof. I wonder if they were trying to get more ventilation.
At the hive entrance, intense activity. The entrance board is crowded. Looking at where the bees were flying, I noticed many were just flying around making a loop and coming back. I wonder if they were cooling off. There were a row of faners on the landing board.

I put a piece of cardboard on the west side to shade the hive, as this side was getting really hot in the afternoon sun. I lifted the upper hive body by about 2mm to create some ventilation. The bees had already propolised it from yesterday inspection.

I am worried that my hive doesn't have enough ventilation, been in direct sun.

Outdoor temperature was in the 90s.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

May 16th inspection

I did my second inspection today. I notices the following things:
  • There are a few bees inside the quilt. They made a furrow. I wonder if it is to get more ventilation?
  • The top box has some cross combs between several frames, but the lateral frames are free.
  • The top box is heavy.
  • The second box has some weight, but less that the top box. It is about 60-70% built. This is an estimation, as I did not remove any frames.
  • The third and fourth boxes are empty.
  • I need a frame lifter, I am not confident enough and don't have the dexterity to remove frames without making the bees get defensive.
  • I found two drones. Good thing I can recognize them. One of them was on top of the top bar ("what is the queen doing here ??? wait a minute..."), the other one outside on a brick. Both looked amazingly lazy compared to the busy workers.
  • I am not yet a beekeeper (I am a "bee haver"). Lots of progress still to be made. I am crushing a lot of bees.

I put a piece of burlap on top of the hive, below the quilt, and another one on top of the wood chips inside the quilt.

I then closed the hive. I later realized tens of bees were trapped between the bottom of the quilt, and the piece of burlap. When I realized it, most were dead. A few escaped.
I was confident enough to remove the roof and lift the quilt to let bees escape, without wearing a bee suit.

I did not get stung yet.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Day 24: Hive Entrance

This morning I checked around the hive and notice that the different hive bodies are not joining perfectly. There is a gap of about 1mm in several areas, which could produce too much draft. I decided to tape around the hive, at each hive body junction. Hopefully the bees will propolis all this.

Today was the first sunny day of the week, after 5 days of rain, and the bees were very busy. In the following picture, several bees are fanning, while another is coming in with pollen.

A wasp can be seen eating the sugar syrup form a leak.
The hive was very active during the whole day. I made some progress on the fence, and got thyme seeds planted in the green house for the bee yard. I plan to use creeping thyme as a ground cover for the beeyard, hopping that this will help the bees fight varroa.

Next weekend will be the second inspection (if weather allows) with inspection of brood.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Day 15: First Inspection

May 1rst, 2009.
Today, on Day 15, I did my first inspection since hiving the colony. The goal was to verify comb building, and to add two more empty boxes at the bottom of the hive.
Opening the hive was a little daunting, but the bees were amazingly gentle, and I quickly calm down. I first removed the top follower boards and replaced them with empty frames. Removing the follower boards exposed fresh new combs. The work of the bees is beautiful:

I am very pleased with the progress of this hive. The bees are taking a lot of sugar syrup, and I hope the many blooming trees will provide them with a more adequate food source very soon.
I am also amazed of the quietness of the bees. This is often reported by Warre beekeepers.

I will make several changes to my hive:
Remove the bee space on each side of the frames. This is wasted space. Since I use foundationless frames, if the bees want a bee space on each side of the combs, they will build their combs that way. Otherwise, they will brace their combs to the side bar of the frame. I will remove the bee space by nailing a sheet of plywood to the inside wall. This will also improve insulation.
Addition of a top cover. A piece a cloth covering the top bars of the top box will allow the bees to better control air circulation.

I was not courageous enough to remove the filled frames and check if the queen is laying. I will inspect the hive again in 2 weeks, to add the top cloth cover. I may check egg laying then. If everything looks well, I will then leave the bees alone for the whole summer, monitoring a swarm condition from the sound of the hive only.

I did not get stung. So far so good, this is awesome.

Day 4 Status

April 20th, 2009.
The hive entrance, end of day 4, still daylight but getting chilly (April 20th, day of the average last frost). You can see the guard bees deployed.

I wonder which one of these will be the first to sting me??

Actually, it will be more likely a forager coming back that will give me my first sting.

Hiving a Colony

April 20th, 2009.
Here is the 3 pound package. You can see on the side, some hitch-hickers outside the box. Those free-bees started to fly while I was driving ...

A picture during the hiving process:

That hive absconded, I have no idea where the colony is now.

Packages Arrived!

April 19th, 2009.
I got my bee packages Friday morning (April 17th). By noon, both were hived. Because they were packaged since Monday, I was advised to do a direct release. Unfortunately, I made a mistake: after the queen release, I left the queen cage outside the hive. On the first hive, no problem, but on the second colonie, bees started to cluster on the queen cage, eventhough it was empty. I left to work for the afternoon, and by the time I was back home, everything was quiet around the hives. The sugar syrup given on the first colony was 75% gone, while less than 20% was gone on the second one.

The second day, Saturday, saw a lot of activity on the entrance of hive 1, and very little on hive 2. Sugar syrup absobtion was lower than yesterady for both hives.
Saturday night, an inspection of the hives entrance at dusk showed guard bees still at the entrance on hive 1, no one on hive 2.

Sunday, I noticed that most of the activity visible on hive 2 was bees coming from or going to hive 1. At the end of the day, I decided to open hive 2, and saw it was empty. A few dead bees on the bottom board, but no dead queen. I don't know what happened to the queen. I supose the worker bees joined hive 1, but I am not sure.

Now the question is that are two western suppers enough for 20,000 bees? I am going to leave them alone for 1 week. I am not sure when to stop feeding.
I will post pictures of the hiving process soon.


Beehive Management - 2009

April 10th, 2009.
Since I will be using US equipments and manage it the French ("Warre") way, I need some sort of plan.

Warre hive has 8 frames, I got 10 frame equipments. I read that a smaller but taller nest is better than a wider shorter one, so I am going to use follower boards, modified frames with a piece of wood to block the bees out, one on each side of the brood boxes, leaving only 8 frames for brood & honey to get the bees started, like in the pic at right. Black is follower board, yellow is honey/pollen, red is brood. Of course initially, everything will be empty.

After a week or so (before the 8 frames get filled!), depending on hive activity, I will add the suppers. Warre says to add the suppers at the bottom, and all at once, since the heat of the nest will be retained at the top.

One potential problem with this configuration is if a strong honey flow happens, the brood won't emerge fast enough to leave room for honey storage, and even though there may be plenty of room below, the lack of room above will result in a swarm. So at my first Spring visit, I will remove the follower boards from the brood boxes, and add suppers at the bottom. A total of 4 boxes should be enough for a new colony.
The two top boxes containing brood at the beginning of the season, with follower boards, will have their follower boards removed, to leave room for honey storage. The two lower boxes, initially empty, will have follower boards, as they will become the new brood boxes by the end of the season. Here is how the hive will look like after the Spring visit:

As the colony develops, the hive will go through the following stages:

This is of course the best case scenario. During the Fall visit, one box will be harvested only if the 3 lower boxes are sufficiently filled, and the colony will spend the winter on 3 Medium boxes, 2 of them with 8 frames.

I am a beginner beekeeper, and this is quite an unusual management plan, so if you guys see any flaw, drop a note on the comments. Thanks!

Getting Started

April 8th, 2009.
In a week, I will receive two packages of bees containing 10,000 workers and 1 queen each. My two hives are almost ready. Then I will have to fence around the hives to protect them ... and us!
This is my beginning at beekkeping.
There are different reasons I decided to raise bees despite the fact that I have always been scared of them, the first is the disappearance of pollinators worldwide, and more particularly honeybees. We, in the US, loose 30% to 50% of our commercial honeybees every year. The reasons for those losses are multiple, from insecticide to mono-cropping, transportation of hives cross country, wax contamination, intrusive hive management and even some disease treatments. The weakening of bee colonies lets opportunistic parasites such as varroa thrive and spread.
I got my apprenticeship training last October, and have been researching during the whole winter. Several things in the way bees are currently manages should be changed in my opinion:
1. Wax foundation. By reusing wax over and over again, chemical concentration increases and eventually hurts the bees even before they are born (as larvae in the wax cells). Therefore, I will use foundationless frames, where the bees build their own combs. The drawback is a lower honey yield. The advantage is chemical free wax cells, at the size the bees want them (foundations force the bees to build cells at a particular size), and cost saving (no wax foundations to buy).
2. No top suppering. The current hive system consists of adding "suppers" at the top of the hive, for the bees to store the honey in. That's not how bees naturally store honey. They start their nest with brood (bee larvae), and as the larvae emerge, the workers build more combs BELOW the brood nest, for the queen to lay eggs, while the top cells, empty after the larvae have emerged, are filled with honey. To replicate this, we should add suppers at the BOTTOM of the hive (this is called nadiring). This means brood boxes and suppers need to be the same size, interchangeable. Once the bees have filled their brood box, an empty box is added at the bottom, without foundation, so they can build new clean wax, and raise brood in it, while the top used cells are filled with honey.
3. Non-intrusive inspections. This is a delicate one. It is necessary to inspect for diseases, but the inspections severely disturb the bee nest, exposing fragile eggs and larvae to open air, therefore increasing the probability of diseases. Inspections are recommended every week, I will go every 2 weeks. They recommend to remove every frame, I will remove none, but inspect the bottom of each frame by lifting the hive boxes, one at a time. I will also try to monitor the hive by watching entrance activity during the day. Another technique is to record the background noise inside the hive, then tap the hive and record the "hiss" the bees make when they are disturbed. The background noise and the hiss tell about bee population (percentage of young workers ...) and can be used to predict swarming without even opening the hive.
4. Controlled ventilation. Like termites and ants, bees have developed an efficient way of controlling the climate of their colony. Unfortunately, modern hives don't always let them do that easily. I will add features in my hive to allow them to control the climate of their colony:
Addition of a quilt. This is a box full of absorbent (shredded paper, wood chips ...) set at the top of the hive, just under the roof. It also improves insulation of the roof.
Addition of a cloth. A piece of burlap below the quilt, that the bees can close shut with propolis ("bee glue"), and then open on demand, according to their ventilation needs.
Addition of a sump. Normally, a hive stands about a foot above the ground, with open air between the hive and the ground. The bottom of the hive been open, this produces too much ventilation. Instead of an open hive stand, I will use a closed hive stand, made of cinder blocks enclosing the space below the hive. My only worry is wax moth larvae, that can reach the ground and hibernate.
5. Help them fight varroa with thyme plants around the apiary. I am not sure how much this will help. Bees love Thyme, but varroa hate it. So I hope that by collecting pollen from Thyme plants, they will have a certain amount of thymol in their body, helping them grooming varroa off. I have no idea if this is effective or not.
That's about it for now. I will eventually post a few pics of my setup.
Beside the disappearance of pollinators, I am raising bees to improve my garden yield, collect extra pure honey from all my neighbors yard (bees can fly 3 miles away from their colony), collect wax and propolis, and spend time at home constructively.
If I succeed with my two colonies, then I will look for places to setup more apiaries.