Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Midsummer Bees

looking at inner cover at monasteryThis is a geeky hive-management report, the kind of post that I cannot imagine someone else reading. Since it is also the sort of thing that has been preoccupying me lately, and you have not heard much (sorry), well, here goes. You know, I would welcome your feedback on this kind of subject matter, either in comments (below) or emails to me (phang@tonitoni.org). Questions are also welcome!

That being said, we are having a nice respite here: these are usually the hottest days of the year, but they are more like early September. Therefore, it seems like a good idea to visit all six hives and get a picture of how these colonies are doing. I've learned one thing, though: the best way to ensure a short, heavy rain during this period of drought is to be up on the roof with a colony open! It rained hard, but only for 10 minutes. Harrumph. Hardly any nectar will come from that!

So you know my six hives, right? Twain and Wilde on the roof (#1 and #2), Doug and MaryEllen at the Monastery (#3 and #4), and the Cockrills and the Mallards (#5 and #6, named respectively for the family that ran the General Store and the duck family on the mill pond — and a play on the name of the family that used to run the mill, the Millards).

There are a number of story lines about which you have been in the dark (sorry again). The most dramatic is the sighting of small hive beetles (or so I think) in the Doug colony over at the Franciscan Monastery. In 5 visits, I have seen them twice, but I am pretty sure it's them. It would be best to capture a specimen and put it under the microscope, but until then it seemed prudent to install West Small Beetle Traps — one of the few options that did not require any kind of pesticide (one of the most common treatments involves soaking the area around your bees with permethrin, a substance that kills bees, and many wild things. Seems like a bad idea to me, and hardly in the Franciscan tradition!)

The beetle lays its eggs in the hive, but its nasty larvae need to climb out and pupate in the ground. Therefore, on their way out they will now have to negotiate a tray on the bottom board covered with diatomaceous earth (wicked scratchy stuff with no chemical action). The tray is also covered by a screen with holes too small for the bees, so they won't get exfoliated. This is going to make taking Varroa mite counts harder, but I wonder if Varroa will be suppressed at all if they fall into diatomaceous earth? I'll try to let you know.

Monastery Round Up

Getting new gear on the bottom board means, of course, that a full voyage through each Monastery Hive was required. Here's what I found.

Doug had lots of bees, with a brood nest of three mediums and another medium full of honey. They had stored a lot of nectar in the brood nest, which made the discovery of swarm cells (!!) no surprise. But oddly, two of the queen cells, including one in the supercedure position, appeared to have released queens already. I thought, "Perhaps a swarm has already left?" but then I saw this Spring's queen, the yellow-dotted Minnesota hygienic. Do you think the bees changed their minds about swarming or superceding?

There were brood babies at all stages, maybe not as many eggs as I would like, but we are in a dearth now. I installed the West trap, put the box with the queen on the bottom, put the empty-ish old bottom box in the middle, and the former middle brood box on the top, then closed up. The bee boxes needed to be draped by the time I got into the second one: the bees are a bit antsy now.

I did Doug first because I worked the neighbors in MaryEllen more recently. I decided to stop feeding until I could get the extracted honey supers back on. Later I will do my usual going-berserk- with-syrup- ahead-of-winter. I bagged up the hive top feeder where I had seen beetles, replaced the screened inner cover, and closed 'em.

Of course, right after this successful operation (only one sting, and my fault for pinching her!) I dropped my camera, telescoping lens down, and destroyed it. So that's it for photos today...

MaryEllen was its usual picture of health, but I spent less time poking around because by then I was starting to smell like the alarm pheromone from the hive next door. MaryEllen is a little tight for space: they only have a deep and a medium for brood space, and a medium super pretty full of honey. So I gave them a medium full of foundation last week, but it is not much help. I need to give them back a box of extracted frames, space they can use! Right now, they have more stores than brood, so I need to sort that out.

Even so, there were no swarm cells (I have been reversing regularly). I got to the bottom, installed the West trap, collected three stings for my trouble (not completely my fault this time!) There was a huge beard on the hive as I left, and a guard bee hassled me for quite a long time. I put the now-unused feeders in the car, and went home to do roof duty.

Roof Bee News

The Twain hive has been mighty quiet lately, so it seemed prudent to start there. It also seemed prudent to first wash my veil after that Monastery guard bee pheromone-d all over it, so I washed and waited.

When I finally got to the roof, toting all that gear up the spiral staircase, it quickly became clear that there is something odd about Twain (the hive that was strongest last year!) There was not a single cell of brood, but there was a good population and appropriate mix of workers and drones. I looked for a queen, and could not find one. I wonder if they threw a swarm, and the virgin queen left behind either failed to mate or failed to come back from her mating flight? But there was no laying worker, and the bees were in a good mood. That seems to indicate that a queen is in there somewhere. I'm going to ask Larry what he thinks, but my friend Jane is giving me a queen to put in there tomorrow anyway.

But oh! Wilde is a different picture indeed! There are two more supers of honey to gather, ample brood at every stage, and lots of activity out the front door! I will probably use some of that strength to bolster Twain during the queen introduction — a reversal of my first year! Wilde was the hive that was supposed to swarm in May, but I just don't think it happened. Don't ask me why: I showed you the pictures of the swarm cells, after all!

Two boxes up from the bottom in Wilde, the rain came, and I closed up. I would have liked to reverse those two boxes, and maybe had a look at the queen if she was evident, but that was not to be. I'll be back in a couple of days for sure, anyway.

Since I have not been feeding them (yet), it is clear that both colonies have found a decent source of nectar in the neighborhood — do you think a few pumpkin plants could provide so much? There is also a lot of Russian sage, and some other neighborhood garden plants that make me raise my heart in thanks (truly: I am considering whether or not to leave a jar of honey at certain very garden-y doors, but fear possible outing of my apiary to the authorities).

And tomorrow: Mill Bee Day!

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