Friday, May 15, 2015

spring management, from two to four

We are currently on mowing lock down here.  The grass needs mowing, desperately.  But first of all, I have no idea if we will be able to start the lawn tractor.  That is always a bit of an unknown each spring.  We have the small engine repair place on speed dial.

And secondly, our lawn has exploded with dandelions.  Though probably much to the horror of our neighbors, we think this is a good thing.  Dandelions are an important part of the forage available to our honeybees in the spring, as are the small purple flowered invasive plant that I don't know the name of, but that is covered in honey bees at all times these days.  And therefore, no lawn that contains either will be mowed until the last bloom has passed, I have declared. With one or the other of these blooms in nearly every corner of the yard, no blade has yet been cut.

Truthfully, neither I nor Jonathan are particularly unhappy about the lack of mowing in our lives for the time being.

Don't you wish you were our neighbors?  Dandelions for miles.

With the dandelion bloom comes the time for spring management of our hives.  With plenty of pollen and nectar now available to the hives and being brought in and stored away, brood production, particularly drone production increases, overall population of the hives explodes, and therefore the potential swarming is upon us.  Our swarm trap is going up this weekend, and I suited up and headed down to the beeyard to take a look at how the hives are faring.

We had two hives heading into winter and feel fortunate to have had both survive the hard winter here and the early spring.  I fed them each through the early spring before much pollen was available to them, but neither took very much of the feed and seemed to have enough stored honey to get them through. 

I did a full inspection of both, from bottom up.  I cleaned out the bottom screens for debris and dead bees.  You can see here where my early spring swipes with a stick had removed the the bees from the front of the bottom screen but not the ones way in the back.

Though rather serious looking, I think it is a typical amount of fallout, and the population above, as you will see, does not seem the worse for it.

I took a look through the bottom box, moving frame by frame.  There are some bees down there, and some of their pollen and nectar harvesting seemed to be being placed in the bottom box, but there was no brood.  Which means I can reverse the boxes and put this one up top, to encourage the bees to begin to put their honey stores up higher and keep the brood cluster down lower. Its the layout you want for honey harvesting later.

Next up, hive box two.  

Which is where the brood frames were.  Being tended by a healthy number of nurse bees.

Below, the capped cells that are flat are worker bees, soon to hatch.  The bumpy bulbous ones in the center will be drone or male bees.

I found brood of all stages, so the queen was doing well and recently laying given that there were eggs, larva, and capped brood.  If you look closely at the picture below, you can see tiny white flecks that look like miniature white rice in the top left corner.  Those are eggs.  In the bottom right in each cell you can see growing larva, further along than the eggs, in various stages of development, some just beginning to emerge from eggs, some growing to fill the cell they are in.  Those fuller cells will soon be capped.

I moved on to the third box.  Which was also quite full. And I found the beginnings of swarm cups on some of the bottoms of frames.  Meaning this hive was beginning to think about swarming, the queen leaving with a good part of the population to find a new home, fulfilling their natural tendency to reproduce.

This is one of the frames from the third box.  See anything?

The queen.  With her enlongated abdomen, no fuzz on her thorax.  Here, in the center.  Isn't she pretty?

It was time to split the hive, to create a false swarm essentially.  Taking the queen and about half of her brood.  I took this frame, and several more of the brood frames, with brood of all stages and the nurse bees that came along for the ride, and shook a few more frames of nurse bees in atop them.  And I left behind frames of brood of all stages and some queen cups in the donor hive, so they could create their own new queen.  Foragers out for the day to collect pollen and nectar will return to the original donor hive, continue to build up that hive with honey and develop the brood it has, until a new queen can be either grown themselves with the young eggs in there, or until a new queen could be introduced.

And so, I then had three hives.  The one on the left still uninspected.  Then the donor hive in the middle and next to it the newly split hive.  I closed the split up with picturesque grass, with its queen and mostly nurse bees who do not yet fly, to give them some time to reorient to their new home. 

Next up, the left hive.  I found conditions in there to be similar.  Building population, capped drone cells, and swarm cups on the bottoms of some frames.  So I decided it was time to split this one too.  I do not have another full hive, but I do have a nucleus colony, essentially a half colony used to create new colonies for growth and hive management.  I may decide, depending on how the two new colonies grow, to transfer the nuc to a full hive later in the summer.  Or it may be that one of the three full hives does not do well, and then I can transfer this smaller colony back into the weak hive to strengthen it.  A nucleus colony gives you these options for management.

I wasn't sure about what I should do about placement of the nulceus colony, remembering some beekeepers feel you need to move nuc colonies far away from the donor hive to keep bees from drifting back to the donor hive, depleting the population of the nucleus colony, which is already smaller.  So the nuc spent the night closed up and as far away from the beeyard as I could get them on our property.

And then I thought and pondered and read some books and websites for the night and next day.  And emailed my mentor, who told me, wise woman that she is, that I should now refer to her as my bee keeping friend.  She responded to that email with a prompt and lovely quick visit to take a look.  Told me I could move the nuc back up the hill to the beeyard.  And that I should think about speeding along the return to egg laying and build up of the donor hives by purchasing some queens that she knew had just come available.  

And so, Jonathan received a funny text message where he sat on the sidelines of Julia's lacrosse tournament.  Could you please pick me up two queens on your way home.  Next text:  Oh, and some chicken feed?  We are out.

He arrived several hours later with a cleverly ventilated and humming paper bag with two queens and a few nurse bees plus instructions from their knowledgeable provider to get those queens in right away.  Those hives had now been queenless for about 48 hours.

And so, in the coming dusk, I headed back down.  Fed the new hives to tide them over until the young nurse bees can fly and head out to forage.  And placed the two new lovely Italian queens in the donor hives.

Blue dots are all the rage amongst queens in 2015.

I had left a few queen cups on the bottoms frames of each donor hive, so the bees could more quickly move eggs in there to raise as a new queen.  But now, having decided to introduce an already mated queen to speed things along, I want to take all of those away so there was not any future queen jockeying if those were far enough along to hatch eventually.

Pulling out the frames, I was shocked to see just how busy these ladies had been in the last 48 hours. 

The frame below shows queen cells they were creating to raise a new queen from eggs young enough to be fed royal jelly and raised as a queen.  None of these had been here 48 hours before.  I removed them all and felt quite badly about this.

I placed the new queens in their cages on the brood frames covered with nurse bees.  Thankful, given the not so welcoming behavior the nurse bees from the hive were paying her, for the candy plug that will take a few days for the nurse bees to remove, giving them all a chance to become acquainted before they can actually touch each other, or worse.

Replaced the frame.

And closed them back up.

I gave them each a pat on the head and wished them well.  And headed into the house for dinner.  For which, rather ironically, I had no plans or ingredients.

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