Monday, July 26, 2010

Inspecting W5 (Chris')

We inspected Chris' colony on Friday afternoon. This is a big swarm that was hived just one week ago. I used material available, since my spare hive was already used for another swarm. I was missing a piece of burlap to cover the top bars, so I used what I had on hand, a piece of landscape cloth. Big mistake.

The following pictures were taken by Tero. The quality is much better than my camera's, so better details are visible. Here is a closeup shot, with nice details on the bee body and wings:

Activity at the landing board:

The landscape cloth I used was coated with toxic herbicides, which badly affected the bees. There were a few hundred bees dead on the grass, with more crawling. As a result of the toxicity levels at the top of the hive, the bees started building below AND ABOVE the top bars of the second body. Here is a closeup of one of the combs above the bars, covered with mostly Italian bees, and a few black bees:

Another closeup:

Here is what happens when you deal with wild creatures: you can never predict! This will be a mess in a few weeks.

The hive was closed as is. I did not remove the messed up combs. I will let the bees occupy the space as best as they could, and let them spend the winter that way, with minimum disturbance. The cleanup will happen next Spring. Here is the hive just before closing it up:

List of colonies

Now that I am managing my 6 colonies plus Kristen's colony, as well as helping Andy's 2 colonies, I need to stay clear on the need and status of each colony. I will know the status after the August 15th inspection, here is the list:

L1 = Gold Bar (Mike F). 2009. Swarmed in 2010. Medium strength at last inspection.
L2 = Sultan (Alex S). 2010 package. Weak colony.
W1 = Snohomish garden. 2010 package. Weak.
W2 = Snohomish barn. 2010 package. Medium.
K1-W3 = Snohomish small pasture. 2010 wild swarm. Weak.
W4 = Gold Bar (Rob R). 2010 swarm from L1. Medium.
W5 = Mill Creek (Chris W). 2010 wild swarm. Weak to medium.

Material/care need for each colony:

L1 = inspection & Harvest, winterization. Fix quilt screen (falling apart).
L2 = inspection and winterization.
W1 = inspection, screened sump, move further from electric fence, set with 9 top bars, winterization.
W2 = inspection and harvest, screened sump, removal of broken comb, set with 9 top bars, winterization.
K1-W3 = inspection, cleanup of dead brood from W3, screened sump, winterization.
W4 = inspection and harvest, screened sump, increase roof size, set with 9 top bars, winterization.
W5 = inspection and winterization. Possibly cleanup of messed combs. Screened sump.

All this should be done during the August 15th inspection & harvest, so I'll be busy during the next 2 weeks.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Hiving Chris' Swarm

Two days after hiving Andy's swarm, I hived another swarm for Chris. That swarm was captured from a tree on a gas station. Pictures of the capture will come shortly.
Jonathan, my son, has expressed interest in beekeeping, so I proposed to him to ask his sister if he could borrow her suit and to come help me. Here is the setting, on Chris' property, Jon and I, and the box containing the swarm on top of the opened hive.

The box was closed tight to prevent bees to escape while they were resting in my garage, so the first thing to do was to cut the box open.

Bees are pushing at the door. This was a big swarm and the box openings were too small, a lot of heat was produced inside the box. I even had to set a fan to make sure the bees wouldn't suffer from the heat they were generating.

Several top bars were removed so that I could dump the swarm inside the hive. The process seems brutal, but that is the way we hive bees (swarms or packages). Here the box is cut opened, but I am still holding it closed with my hand while removing the top bars (I should have done it before):

Opening the box was quite un-nerving, that swarm was big, and the bees were not happy been trapped in that box:

Dumping the bees. I cut a few small branches from the tree where the swarm landed. Those branches will have to be removed from the hive, but for now, I am just trying to get as many bees (and particularly the queen) inside:

Removing the branches. Each branch was shaken off its bees above the hive, in case the queen was on it. The spray bottle was filled with sugar syrup, and each small cluster of bees on those branches was sprayed before been shaken. That way, the bees were falling in rather than flying out.

Putting the top bars back without crushing too many bees:

Everything looked good at this point. All the top bars were set, and the quilt and roof were ready to be set on top of the hive. Notice the bees on the front of the hive, marching toward the entrance? That means the queen is very likely inside the hive. On the landing board, fanners are calling in the lost bees by ventilating pheromones outside.

Jonathan collecting the tools after his first beekeeping experience. He said he was a little nervous at some point, when many bees were flying around him. I was very nervous! Bees are wild creatures that deserve respect, and for the inexperienced like us, that respect first materializes as fear.

Here is a closeup view of the fanners on the landing board. The bees that are firmly standing on the board, with their wings moving (not visible) are fanning. Bees may do this for 2 reasons: cooling the hive, or, in this case, calling in the lost bees by fanning pheromones from the queen, or from their own pheromone gland at the end of their abdomen (near the sting gland). You can also see on this shot the varied genetics of the swarm: many Italians (yellow), but also some darker bees (Russians or Carniolans) are visible.

Chris has a great place for bees. The hive was set under evergreen trees, so they should have plenty of sap for the propolis. The property is surrounded by (but still resisting to) blackberry bushes, and it is in a urban area, so the bees should be happy. Best success to this new colony. The first inspection will happen one week after the hiving (which will be tomorrow).

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

July 10 swarm (Andy's)

Jack called me on Sunday, because an unusual amount of bees were flying around the hive. I told him not to worry, since this is a recent package that has barely filled one hive body and still has two more bodies empty, the reason they are flying out is probably the heat, but if the bees were congregating on a tree branch or other similar place, he should call me back, although it was very unlikely ... several minutes later, Jack called back: "we have a swarm". I took my spare hive and my equipment and drove to his house. Here is my first sight of the swarm:

As the bees were congregating on a tree branch, that branch eventually broke and fell to the ground. Luckily, the swarm did not look for another place to regroup, as they usually do in case of a disruption of the cluster.
Jack and I lost no time and started to get ready. Before putting the suits on, we set my spare hive in the desired location, ready to receive the bees.
I believe Jack was using his suit for the first time.

I was not too sure how to catch all the bees laying on the ground, so we intended to try the white sheet method:

A white sheet is layed on the ground, to make the dark entrance of the box more attractive to the bees. If we are lucky, they are going to march en mass toward the box. I never tried this method, nor do I think it is very efficient, but I thought why not try it?

After setting the sheet and the box, I realized that most of the bees were still on the branch, so I lifted the branch, and Jack started to cut the extra length:

After lifting up the branch, it was pretty clear that the queen and most of the bees were on it, so we decided to dump the swarm directly into its hive.

Jack started to cut each branch holding bees, and I shook the bees in the hive:

Piece by piece, the whole swarm ended inside the hive. Jack used the sugar water spray to reduce the amount of bees flying:

Here are the bees left on the rock:

There were still a lot of bees flying around, but about half an hour after the following picture was taken, the rock was clean and most of the bees were inside the hive.

Jack finished up the hiving process, by placing the cloth, the quilt and the roof:

Monday, July 19, 2010

A lot of things happened in the last month:
1. An inspection of the 3 hives on the Snohomish property showed flaws in the hive design. W2 had a comb floating, only hanging from the sides, no top bar to support it. It was build between the first top bar and the wall, because the space between them was too wide. The comb fell down when I opened the hive. W2 will need some work soon, and a taller sump, the current sump does not allow me to remove a fallen comb. Otherwise the hive is progressing well, with 2 full bodies.
2. K1-W3 is finally cleaning the combs of dead larvae. The hive is progressing too slowly. Less than 1 full body.
3. W1 is OK, slow progress too. Less than 1 full body.
4. L1 is doing good, no more queen cells, but not much progress either, still occupying 3 mediums. Its quilt is falling apart.
5. L2 is progressing too slowly. Less than 1 full medium.
6. L3-W4 is progressing fast, but making a mess, same reason as W2, too much space between the hive wall and the first/last top bar. L3-W4 was equipped with 9 top bars. A comb extending through two sections was removed. 1 full medium (Lang part), 1 full body (Warre part).
7. Andy's hive swarmed, with one and a half sections full. This is a surprise. This hive had a comb extending through two bodies, due to excessive space. A ninth top bar was added after the comb was sectioned. The swarm was huge. Jack used my spare hive to capture it. I don't have any spare hive at the moment. Andy's hive is doing very well.
8. Chris called me for a big swarm in town. We captured it. Where is my spare hive ?? Oh Yeah, right! I build a sump this past Friday morning, and robbed K1-W3 off its quilt and roof. The weather is warm enough that K1-W3 can survive without them for a few days. I had three available hive bodies with no top bars. I cut wider top bars, and put 9 top bars in each bodies. The swarm was installed on Chris' property Friday noon. Big swarm with yellow bees and black bees. Mixed genetics, good looking swarm, lots of blackberries nearby, plus urban location is good for flowers. This should be a successful colony. This is W4. I have 7 hives again.
9. All hives that had a feeder built burr combs full of honey between the top bars and the bottom of the feeder. This is another design flaw.

Thing to do:
1. K1-W3 needs a quilt and a roof.
2. Build a full size sump for W1 and W2, and add a mesh at the bottom to block mice.
3. Add a wire mesh under all existing sump to block mice from wintering inside the hives. To make this easier, build a spare sump with the mesh, and exchange it, then upgrade the sumps one by one.
3. Fix W2 fallen comb.
4. Remove all unused hive bodies currently set in occupied hives, and install 9 top bars in them, evenly spaced and secured with beeswax.
5. Set the feeders to receive 5 jars instead of 1, and fill the space under the feeder floor.

Requests for hive received so far:
1. Chris' property - FULFILLED.
2. Sultan cabin.

Space available for new hives:
1. W3 old position.

The beekeeping operation is progressing well. I need to build spare hives in addition to the two hives that will be added next Spring.
Karen and Jonathan want to participate. They will take the class with Kristen next October. This is becoming a great family project.

Next post: pictures of W4 (Chris'). I will inspect this hive Friday or Saturday.