Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Where's Catherine?

Here are two photos from last week that I took during routine hive inspection.  This was the first time I've been able to spot the queen on my own and it was pretty cool!

Can you spot her?
Look at the "court" trailing behind her.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Hive Top Feeder = Drowned Bees

I'm upset.  I'm sad.  I'm confused.

Here's what happened ...

As I previously mentioned, I ordered a float style hive top feeder about two weeks ago.  It came last week and I installed it last Thursday.  Today, Tuesday, I went back to check on the feeder and how the bees liked it.  I was totally shocked when I found roughly 40 bees had drowned in it over the course of five days.  I immediately removed the feeder, because with a colony as small as mine, I can't afford to lose that many bees.  Period.

Thankfully, the clover nectar flow is strong right now and the hive has been staying fairly busy, so the removal of this feeder should be no big deal.  Also the entrance reducer is still in and I'm watching carefully for pests/robbing.

I'm just disappointed.  I made sure that the floats were installed correctly and have pictures showing that they were.  I plan to email the company and ask if this is normal or if there is some trick to the feeder that I am missing.  It's hard for me to understand how so many bees could have drowned in such a short time.  In the photo below, you'll see sticks that I was using to try to save a few half alive bees after removing the feeder.

If anything positive can be said, it seems that the bees have begun to draw out comb in the second super.  I do a full break down inspection on Thursday, so I will post an update and more photos then.

The feeder and floats before I installed them last Thursday.
The hive after putting on a second super and the feeder.

What I found today when checking the feeder.
This is the feeder after I removed it from the hive today.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

2012 Pollinator Week Petition

I started doing some research about 2012 Pollinator Week and was surprised that Kentucky has yet to officially participate.  Being that Kentucky has some pretty amazing agricultural programs in place, I thought it would be worth a shot to send Governor Beshear a letter to request his support.  Of course I understand that one letter from one person probably won't get much response, but I'm hoping that the seed of the idea of a Kentucky Pollinator Week will at least get planted.

Yes, petitioning for Kentucky Pollinator Week may seem less important than raising awareness for global hunger, illness, war, abuse, or global warming, but I really feel like this is something small that I can do as a hobbyist to generate interest and remove myths surrounding pollinators, and specifically honeybees.

I'll post any response that I get.

May 19, 2012

Governor Steve Beshear
700 Capitol Avenue Suite 100
Frankfort, Kentucky 40601

Dear Governor Beshear:

Five years ago the U.S. Senate’s unanimous approval and designation of the final week in June as “Pollinator Week” marked a necessary step toward addressing the urgent issue of declining pollinator populations.  Last year 37 states declared their own state Pollinator Week.  With your help, we hope to reach 100% state participation this year.  The popularity and public enthusiasm for Pollinator Week has been overwhelming.  In 2012 we can continue to build on the tremendous success of this movement with your involvement.

Pollinator Week has become an international celebration of the invaluable ecosystem services provided by bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles. The growing concern for pollinators is a sign of progress, but it is vital that we continue to maximize our collective effort.

Thus, I am writing to ask for your support in helping to protect pollinating animals, which are vital to our food supply, economy, and a key to global sustainability, by declaring “Kentucky Pollinator Week,” June 18-24, 2012.

Kentucky’s amazing “Kentucky Proud” program already promotes the unique diversity of Kentucky farm products, and with your help, Kentucky Pollinator Week will raise awareness and understanding for the vital pollinators that are an extremely important part of Kentucky’s agricultural system. 

In the landmark study, Status of Pollinators in North America, the National Academy of Sciences and National Research Council recommends an immediate increase in public awareness of the vital roles pollinators play in our lives.  By declaring Pollinator Week in Kentucky, you will be helping to do exactly that.

Please consider joining this movement to protect one of the foundations of life that has been largely ignored. A sample proclamation is enclosed. Thank you for supporting the great state of Kentucky and its citizens through your advocacy for pollinators.

Becky Anderson

Monday, May 14, 2012

Baby Bee and a Second Super

What started out as a quick and simple trip to the hive quickly turned into a full Becky-Get-Your-Hat hive inspection.  I just wanted to check the level of sugar syrup in their feeder, but imagine my surprise when I found that the bees had started building "chimney wax" over the top bars of their frames.  Being that they still had about three outer frames left to draw out in the brood box, I wasn't expecting them to begin expanding upward yet.  Although there were still a few half empty frames, and the colony still seems small, I quickly realized that it was time to put on a second super.

I put on my hat and gloves and got to work.  I decided to do a quick check for beetles again, and it was during this check that I got my second surprise.  I was able to see my first baby bee trying to emerge from its cell in the brood comb.  It was really exciting to watch her chewing through the wax cap.  I'm posting a short video of myself and my partner Stewart totally geeking out to this.

Oh, and happily, I didn't find any beetles.

The beginning of "chimney comb"

Honey, pollen, and larva - all looking good.

The super clean "chimney" comb.

Look for this cell in the video below.  It's a baby bee chewing through its wax brood cap.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Busy as a, well you know ...

The girls were really active today!  Of course, this activity came only after the day warmed up (we topped out around 75 degrees).  I took the opportunity to shoot a short video of activity at the hive entrance and you can see how a guard bee is wresting with a dandelion puff in the door way.  I'm happy to see them so active.

My apologies in advance for the lower quality due to the videos being taken on my iPhone.

Same video, in slow motion.

The Beetles - and I don't mean Paul, John, or Ringo

Hive beetles.  Tiny, annoying, indestructible hive beetles.  Today during my routine hive inspection I found three of them along the bottom board.  I was able to smash two and flick one into oblivion (I hope).


Being that my colony is still small (this Sunday marks three weeks since I installed them) I went ahead and placed an order for a product called Beetle Jail.  The Beetle Jail installs on the top bar of the hive frame, and I picked this type of trap because it seemed to be the easiest for me to handle while working the hive alone.  If you research traps on the internet, you'll find that there is some heated debate over the Beetle Jail trap versus the AJ Beetle Eater trap.  Both are top bar traps, but the AJ Beetle Eater requires more vegetable oil (the beetles fall into it and drown) and some reports said it was messy and harder to manipulate.  On the other hand, the most frequent con to the Beetle Jail trap that I saw was that the bees sometimes fill its openings with propolis.  This should be fairly easy to remedy with a quick cleaning during regular hive checks.  I'm hoping that since I caught the beetles relatively early, they won't be much of a problem. I want to keep my hive as "organic" as possible so non-chemical problem solvers are my preferred choice.

Additionally, I ordered a constructed hive top feeder with floats today.  The girls seem to LOVE inside feeding, so this new piece will make it easier for me to refill their feed without really disturbing them.

Much to my chagrin, the weather will be cold again over the next few days, however, I was at least able to refill their current feeder.

Beyond that, the bees were still working to draw out the outer brood frames with wax, the inner capped brood seemed to be progressing normally, and the workers have been storing pollen like mad.  I also noted a few cells on the outer frames now have eggs in them, so that is very promising.

The eggs are the "rice grain" items that appear in the bottom of the cell.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Forage Map

While browsing the Internet today, I found a really cool scientific chart about what blooms when in Kentucky.  What I really found cool though, is that this chart was made by NASA.  If you've got some extra time and interest, you should read through the other pages on the website.  It was very informative, and let's just admit it, it's pretty comical to think about space bees.

Baby bees!

What a difference a few days can make!  We didn't get the rain showers called for this weekend, and the dry days seem to have given my colony the break they needed to go out and get some business done.

Yesterday my mom stopped down and was interested in seeing the colony so I suited up and took her out to break down the hive.  Much to my delight, there was a beautiful pattern of brood, pollen, and light colored honey on the inner brood frames!  Additionally, the bees were busy drawing comb on the outer brood frames, which signaled to me that Catherine the Great has no intention of slowing down now that she's in prime production.  I also noticed some "fanning"by the workers to distribute the queen's pheromones (known as queen substance).  This is good because it keeps the colony happy and workers fanning it can signal that the queen has had a successful mating flight ... which means, BABIES (and sequentially more respect from the colony)!

Look at all the pollen surrounding the brood!!

This photo has it all: capped brood, larva, nurse bees, pollen legs ... whew!
A closer view of larva in the upper right corner.
"Woman, what do you think you're doing? Get over here and pet me!"

After seeing how busy the bees have been, I had a good laugh at myself for being so worried.  As seen above, they are doing just fine and seemingly thriving.  Silly me!

Friday, May 4, 2012

She's not dynamite with a laser beam ...

... but my colony seems to like her well enough.  Yes, I'm using lyrics of a Queen song to refer to my queen bee Catherine the (not so) Great.  Yesterday we had a break in the cold and rainy weather, so I was able to get out to my hive and inspect for brood again.

The good news is that a few nurse bees were actively tending to larva and there was some capped brood present.

The bad news is that my colony still remains small, and my queen's laying pattern looks a lot like this Jackson Pollock painting.

That is to say, my queen is practicing interpretative laying.  Rather than a neat pattern of brood cells evenly laid across a frame, there are a few cells on the front, a few cells on the back, a few cells in the middle, and seemingly for good measure, a cell or two waaaaaay far away from any of the other cells.  As far as I can tell, the colony is not building supersedure queen cells, but I'm beginning to worry that Catherine the Great may be a drone laying queen.  In simple terms, a drone laying queen is one that due to the bad weather (or other factors) was unable to take the normal "mating flights" in which she gathers drone sperm to fertilize her eggs (and thus produce female worker bees).

I hope I'm wrong though.  I've read where new queens in new hives can sometimes be very random in their laying pattern (or lay drones only) for the first month or so.  The capped brood was in its early stage, and no tell tale "puffiness" of a drone cell was present yet. Since our forecast calls for more storms over the weekend, it will be several days before I can get out to check the frames again.  Perhaps Mother Nature will be nice and only give us a very brief shower.  While a drone laying queen may be a potential obstacle, to their credit, the colony is drawing out some really nice wax comb.

One final item of interest from my inspection is that the sugar-water feeder that I moved into the hive a few days ago was EMPTY.  I'm talking picked-up-their-plate-and-licked-it-clean empty.  Apparently an inside feeder is the way to go.  Perhaps this will encourage the girls to be more active.  Assuredly, I noticed several worker bees returning with lots of pollen on their legs!

Two bees "dancing" to communicate the location of a good pollen source.
Just hanging out in the morning sun.
Worker bees returning with two types of pollen.
First, the center bee returns with a lighter colored pollen.
Next, another bee returns with darker pollen.