Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Cherries delight 2014 edition and another cold snap on the way...

Sunday, April 13, 2014

A check of the bees one week post install of each new hive reveals that both queens appear to be out of their queen cages.  The plugs of sugar candy at the ends of the queen cages are gone; all eaten away.  In hive 1, near the house, I see no queen and no eggs yet, but I do see a few swarm cells forming.  So, someone laid those!  Who knows if she now exists?  I hope so.  My eyes are just not good enough to see if those white specks inside the cups of comb are in fact eggs or small larvae or a mirage of wax at the bottom.  When/if capped, it will be more apparent.  I hope she's alive. I have this awful thought that she was released too soon and perhaps stung to death and not accepted by the hive.  Time will tell.
Hive 2 I see the queen and she looks healthy.  (Last year a queen arrived with a broken wing and she died.) There is a lot of activity at hive 2 at the door and all around the hive.  Hive 1 shows less activity at the entry than hive 2, but they are active.  Many workers of both hives are bringing in pollen in their pollen sacs of two types, a red color (maple) and a bright yellow color (cherry). Workers from both hives are bee-lining it, traveling back and forth from the two hives following the sun over the house and to the front yard to the weeping cherry trees in full bloom and then back.
Several guard bees from both hives follow me around the yard after my being in their hives, that is until I confuse them... by taking off my white beesuit, and they no longer recognize me.  I've not used any smoke in the hives yet.  They are all very gentle right now and I don't want to accidentally cause a swarm on newly installed hives.
The evening news predicts we will go from today's 80F temperatures to 20F with a small snow storm on Tuesday, April 15th!  Not again!  That will mean the end of the cherry blossoms.  At least, the dandelions are opening as an alternative pollen source.  And, how will my girls do with this coming cold snap?  Will any eggs and brood survive or get what is known as chilled brood?  I will place the ipm bottom boards in the hive bottoms for that cold snap and hope for the best.  But, enjoy the cherries while we have them, yet.

Diving in headfirst for a nectar sip!

The paper wasps (one above) and orchard bees are also at the bar.

Flowers aren't as fully opened near base of tree limbs.

Bee butt!

Flower hat!

See the lovely full pollen sac with yellow pollen!

Frontyard overview. Fauxpas, the cat, under the cherry.

Clifford, the dog, under the other cherry.

Monday, April 7, 2014

April 7th, 2014 The Georgia belle bees are here, and what a fast learning curve!

April 5th and 6th, 2014
My Georgia belles have arrived, all 6,012-6,014 of them!  (Recall each bee package has 3 lbs of bees which is about 3000 bees, plus a Queen and her 5-7 attendants.) Walt and I picked them up Friday night and kept them fed through the package screening by squirting thick sugar syrup with a small dose of antibiotic into and on the screen of the cages. That initiated some activity!  They were VERY thirsty. They had been shaken together last Tuesday and not everyone could maneuver to the enclosed can of sugar syrup with three small punctured holes in it to get a drink on their drive to MD. Satisfied that they had at least enough syrup to eat and hold them over, I covered them with newspaper to keep the packages dark, and stored them away for the night. They settled down to a nice harmonic buzz.

Saturday morning it was sunny, but a cold North wind was blowing and it was in the mid 50sF.  I decided to wait until the sun was high in the sky to hive (install) them.  Around 3pm it seemed right, even though the wind just wouldn't quit.  I've never installed bees in such wind.  But, it was sunny and warmer (now 60sF), so I decided to go for it.  My neighbor noticed me heading out and said oh your bees are in!  Yep, I'm going to hive them now.  He said, oh, you might want to wait.  I just heard it will be 31F tonight.  Tomorrow might be better.  Hmmmm.  Dropping below freezing?  That's not good for young new bees and queens from Georgia where it is warmer.  I decided to go ahead and hive the bees, but to do it differently from in past years.  (See very first post from last year).  We will soon see if it worked or not!

Instead of using two supers on each hive, one to hold frames, queen cage, bees,and syrup can from their travel package, and the other to accommodate a gallon bag of sugar syrup laid over the top of the frames with a small slit to allow a drinking trough as in the past, I decided with dropping freezing temps coming tonight, we could not have a frozen bag of syrup, essentially an ice pack, lying on top of her majestys! And, with two supers, one of them empty to accomodate the bag of syrup, that would be a lot of volume to heat for a small cluster of bees. It would get too cold and kill the queen and many of them. So, one super would warm nicely.  Being a veteran beekeeper, I keep some previous year's frames of capped honey stored and I pulled these out for the girls to eat on.  As they eat the honey, they will make cells for the queen when she walks out of the cage to start laying eggs.  (A brand new beekeeper would not have had this advantage,) I also slipped the ipm bottom boards into the bottom board slit area to provide extra insulation for the night.  I hope these modifications worked ok.

I also decided to not pierce the candy plug in the queen cages.  The queens are young already mated but small and look healthy.  I decided with cold weather, I didn't want them coming out too soon.  Any disturbance could cause the bees to sting her to death.  Extreme cold from their Georgia perspective might do this.  So, I'll let her attendants take a bit more time to eat through the candy plug and release her.  As I've mentioned before, sadly they-the attendants-will be stung to death when they walk out of the cage.

As you can see, a beekeeper has lots of options.  There are standard ways you are taught to do things by master beekeepers and special classes, but common sense and experimentation and experience teach us as well.  There is no one way to do something in beekeeping I find.

So, other than these modifications, due to impending cold, I installed my girls exactly as I had last year.  (See much earlier post and photos.)  The trick is to see that at the entryway you have several girls "fanning" after a successful installation.  It was windy, but they were fanning.  (Workers stand on their tippy tarsi and do a sort of headstand.  They beat their wings feverishly to release a pheromone scent on the back of their abdomen.  It flows out in a plume from the bees doing this fanning and signals to others; here we are! Come over here.  We've found a new home.  You'll be safe inside.)  Ok, I anthropomorphize a bit!
Baby bees (that's what I affectionately call these really young bees that have never flown), that had fallen from the hive during installation were crawling toward where the fanning was coming from and toward each hive entry almost immediately after install.  A good sign. The wind was not adversely impacting the fanned plume of pheromone scent.

Within an hour of install, I watched the older workers that do fly taking their first training flights from each hive.  First they would travel maybe 3 feet out and then circle back, taking in the sun's position and landmarks around their new hives.  A bit later, they were going 6 to 8 feet from the hive and circling back.
By evening, some were actually finding the blooming maples in the backyard some 20 feet away.  Amazing. They are fast learners!  I'm proud of my child prodigies! Now, if they can just survive these temps!

April 7th, 2014
After church was over. I drove to the backyard to see my bees.  (I actually drove by the hives before church, but it was still too cold and there was no activity yet.)  After church, about noon, it was sunny and warm, a pretty day.  They were coming in and out of the entryway.  I got out of the car and went and sat on the bench to watch them for 30 minutes.  Several girls were bringing in a pretty red pollen.  Maple, no doubt. They found it.  In less than 24 hours, really in less than 20 hours, these foreign girls had figured out their new homes and had found food 20 feet away and were making a beeline back and forth as they started their new colonies up and running. Walt came by later to watch as well and explained, now that's a fast learning curve!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The bees are coming; the bees are coming!

April brings such joy to the heart of a beekeeper!  My new bees (to replace my old ones that sadly died from the harsh winter) are coming.  They will arrive Friday night.  I've ordered two 3 lb packages each with a queen cage in them; they come from a bee warehouse in Georgia; each package cost me about $82. The 3 lb packages have about 3,000 bees (all female workers for the most part) recently shaken into them from differing hives.  They have never met each other prior to being shaken into this wooden box with screening on it; the packages are carefully weighed to make sure the box is exactly 3 lbs.
Being from different hives, they are upset and disoriented.  Then there's the matter of being separated from their moms (original queens in their own separate hives).  Some imposter queen is now in the 3 lb package in small separate cage with them, but she doesn't smell right; not like mom did.  They are so upset they would sting her if they could get at her.  (Thus her separate protective cage!) Then there's the matter of driving over 800 miles to a new destination. Driving on the back of a truck bed means road potholes, gas fumes, temperature differences, and vibrations; by the time the packages arrive, there will be several dead sisters on the edge of the cluster and the floor of the package.  It's just too much for them to take it all.  And, on top of that, in Georgia, it is already spring.  But, in Virginia and Maryland, the maples are just blooming. The crocuses and dandelions are finally coming out, but there is definitely a lag in available flowers for pollen and nectar (and warmth of temperature to which they are used to having)!  It's a wonder, any of them will survive at all. When they arrive safely, I will let my readership know.

Rather than having them sent through the US mail or UPS or Fed Ex, which would be an additional shock to their systems and engender curiosity from postmasters and deliverymen with possible negative consequences, my local bee club sends a representative to go down to Georgia and pick all of the ordered bees from the club up at one time and bring them back in a trailer together.  Once they have arrived, we get a call, we go and pick them up, and bring them home.  I check them to be sure all looks in order; then I place mine in a cool, dark, dry place - my basement.  They need to settle down and get used to their new queen.  Darkness helps.  That's what a hive is inside-dark and quiet except for buzzing.

They are also very thirsty, so I mix up my sugar water spray bottle with a bit of Fumigilin B antibiotic in it to help feed them and calm them down as well; they often will have dysentery or diarrhea from their long trip; this helps tremendously.  I spray little droplets on the screening of the box's sides for them to lap up like kittens lapping milk. You don't want to douse them and get them chilled, wet, or cold, and especially not the queen; that's one reason the cage is at the top and off the bottom of the package.  She gets better ventilation this way; also the cluster will begin to form around her as they recognize her as their new monarch.

The queen cage is provided with 5-7 of the queen's personal attendants who feed her as she cannot feed herself.  They eat a sugar candy plug in a small opening at the end of the queen cage.  It should take 4-7 days for them to eat through this plug.  By the time they do, her majesty can walk out and be greeted royally and not stung to death by her new subjects.  It takes those 4-7 days for her pheromone (perfume smell) to be accepted by her new subjects.  Unfortunately, the 5-7 attendants in the cage with her will be stung to death as they exit the cage, as they are not recognized as like members.  That's rather sad and a huge sacrifice on their part. But, I'm getting ahead of myself.

The bee packages will sit in the basement with me feeding them spray drops of sugar water for about 2-3 days; then I will hive them in their new hives.  The queen with attendants will still be in their separate cage, but now in the hive, too-the cage hangs from the top of one of the frames with the plug side down; some beekeepers prefer up; I like down to have gravity assist in drawing the queen out; I will check the candy plug and even add a mini marshmallow to prolong the process to make sure that when the queen comes out she is accepted and not stung to death! Queens are expensive and a hive cannot make it without one!  If the process seems slower for the attendants eating the candy plug opening, I'll pierce it with a small nail hole and not add a mini marshmallow. If I pierce it, I must be careful not to pierce the queen or her wings, legs, etc.

So, after bee pick up tomorrow, this next week will be consumed with the above processes and getting hives ready and watching the girls and the queen to see that all is well within the two new kingdoms (queendoms). Spring has sprung.  The bees are coming the bees are coming! I'm psyched.