Swarm season

Lots of swarms this year. I’ve only ever had one swarm (helps to mark your queens so you know this!!) which I was able to hive. But this year was different.

The bees had built up quickly, did not suffer from a late cold snap that came after a warm-up, they had food (I had to supplement because you would be AMAZED how quickly they can eat 3-4 lbs of food when brood rearing has begun).

I had located all of my marked queens during a mid-April apiary inspection.

The Taranov method was used for my so-called “little” hive when I saw swarm cells. Little did I know that the other colonies were making similar plans. The issue was the weather. Since I work and really only have weekends available for inspections (and that time can be restricted to because of family activities), I try to take advantage of nice days by checking one or two colonies after work. Unfortunately, it was either rainy, windy, or cold, or some combination of that on most days I’d have time to check them. But then we would have decent mornings, less pleasant afternoons. Seemed like I couldn’t win.

But the bees still collect their food, raise brood and if they get congested they make swarm prep regardless of spring weather. Two weeks before the swarms started was the last time I was able to go into brood chambers. All of the marked queens were found, I saw a couple of queen cells in the colonies that still had  2015 blue queens, and figured they were superseding and that was fine with me.

Notes for self:

To date there have been 8 swarms, majority with virgins. Unfortunately, we had quite a bit of rain and I worry that the virgins weren’t able to mate.

Swarm dates:

April 27, April 30 (orange hive), May 1, May 4, May 8 (landed on elderberry, from pink colony based on scale–saw eggs), May 9(two swarms–one from pink again, gave to Brad), May 14 (aqua hive-gave to Larry T.)

May 14:

Checked the colonies (all but the orange one) and cut out all swarm cells. Capped queen cells were given to the new swarm colonies if no eggs were found.

Pink (scale hive)–left one capped queen cell, did not see a queen or evidence of one.

Aqua hive- Two virgins, all capped queen cells removed

Taranov swarm on top of Aqua–laying yellow queen

White hive– no eggs, added queen cell (there was a queen here before, maybe out mating?)

10-frame nuc–no eggs, added queen cell

Purple hive–had marked this queen before saw eggs–she’s no longer there (bad move on my part?) –added capped queen cell.

Chicken coop–2 queen system, each with a laying yellow queen (woo hoo!)

2 cardboard nucs– no eggs, added queen cells, threw in a virgin into the nuc closest to chicken colony.

I have 3 laying queens: in the two queen system by the chicken coop and the Taranov swarm on top of the aqua hive.

PLAN: 1. Check orange hive

              2. Recheck of colonies with no laying queens and combine as needed next weekend.

Swarm control using the Taranov board

 

Rusty, over at honeybeesuite, posted about the Taranov board a few years ago. I was fascinated by the idea and made one which has been patiently awaiting its day of glory.

I normally can control swarming by being pretty aggressive with checkerboarding and stealing brood for weaker hives or for a new nuc. But sometimes, the bees’ plans don’t match mine and they get ahead of me…

I thought I could get away with using one deep brood box and then just super over it, but when I went into the two hives with that set-up, I found the entire deep loaded with brood and almost no more room for the queen to lay. And we know what happens when that happen…swarm prep! I didn’t have anymore deep frames so I found mediums with the small cell foundation (I had these to make up nucs in case I sold any) and placed those over the deep to expand the brood nest and hopefully forestall any swarm plans they may have.

Thankfully I decided to check the hives last week only to discover the so-called “nuc” (it was a nuc last year, not anymore!) had at least 12 queen cells filled with larvae and 2 of them were close to being capped. My strategy of adding the medium apparently worked for one hive but not the other.

So, what to do? Do I split them, giving each half queen cells? Let them swarm (I knew I couldn’t do that)? By this point in their swarm preparations, there was no stopping them. My only solution was to “fake” a swarm thereby decongesting the colony. I don’t know that you can “fool” the bees into thinking a swarm occurred, but they’ll certainly recognize that there are fewer bees and the old queen is gone.

As an aside, once I started the process of using the Taranov board, the sheer number of bees in that “little” hive was truly staggering.

The idea of the Taranov method is to mimic a swarm by removing the old queen and the nurse bees that would normally accompany the swarm. Since the nurse bees have never left the hive, they don’t know how to get back to it. Also, the queen is generally too heavy to fly back to the hive. (she hasn’t stopped laying yet in anticipation of swarming). The Taranov method essentially uses these factors to separate the bees by using a short gap…yes, just a small gap. This gap is surprisingly effective as you will see. So if it works as planned, the nurse bees and queen stay put while the foragers just skip over the gap and go back to the parent hive holding the queen cells. Really, really interesting to watch.

Here’s what I did–at 5 pm after work thank you very much–with the Taranov board:

The instructions tell you to set the board such that gap between the end of the board and the hive front is 4″ but mine was more like 12″. As I didn’t have a staple gun handy to staple the sheet to the top of the board (just behind the blue rag) I decided to drape it on the grass and set the ramp on it. The sheet prevents the bees from becoming entangled in the grass.

Then each frame was taken out of the hive, shaken or brushed (upwards!!) to clear the frames of bees. The frames with queen cells were definitely brushed, not shaken, to protect the queen larvae (click on each picture).

 

Once that was done, the frames were replaced in the parent hive and it quickly began to refill with the foragers as they made their way home:

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Watch the video–so cool!

They didn’t cluster under the blue cloth as they were supposed to. I believe that was a function of the sheet being under the ramp. In general, the queen is expected to find the dark place which in this case would be under the ramp, on the blue cloth. The nurse bees then move to her to cover her. But as you can see, the queen moved down to the bottom of the ramp, where it met the ground and formed a little dark haven for her:

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This video shows the bees moving toward her at normal speed.

So far it has been about 45 minutes since I shook the bees off the frames. I’ve got the new nuc ready for them and all I have to do is pick them up and dump them in. The image with the board in the nuc is after that large clump of bees you see above has fallen from its own weight:

Now for the fun part: watching the bees move to their new home.

Marching in…freaking LOVE this.

Exposing their Nasonov glands and beating their wings to spread the scent of home telling their sisters “This is home! She’s in here!”

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The whole process took about 1.5-2 hours before I moved the nuc to its new location. I counted about 12 dead bees at the end of it. I found none on the grass, the sheet helped tremendously.

This is a great technique if you can just wait for them to sort themselves out. One thing that surprised me was their calmness. I was fully veiled but I’d say only 3 bees ever came close to my head to investigate. They were remarkably peaceful considering what I did to them. I can’t decide if doing it late in the day helped me or not. Even though I was tired from working all day and then coming home to the stress of finding swarm preparation, I think it went surprisingly smoothly. Maybe the sun getting low on the horizon was an incentive for them to finish the job.

I gave the new nuc a jar of food and a pollen patty. I plan to go into one of the hives and still a frame of honey and pollen tomorrow.

Bee week

Wow, what a week. Let’s start with the mason bees. In the last few years I had noticed that areas under my deck were being used as nesting sites. It started with the pile of unfolded blue tarp which formed creases that ended up filled with pollen pellets and eggs. These fell out when I decided to clean up the space and finally FOLDED the tarp 😦  I felt so bad as I saw those pellets of planning and hope come tumbling out.

Then there was the folded top of a bag of peat moss–(crevices are popular apparently)—and then came the wheel wells of a garbage can holding firewood permanently parked by our back door. All nesting sites used by the mason bees.

Last week, as I entered and left the back patio, I noticed chubby bee activity (mason bees are easy for me to identify because their abdomens end in a blunted shape versus a honey bee which has an elongated abdomen) by the wheels. As I bent down to look there arrived a female carrying pollen on the underside of her abdomen and disappeared into a wheel well. The nests next to her showed chewed out holes indicating the previous brood had emerged and now the current generation was obviously working on the next….a never ending cycle (I hope!)

Hmmmm…what to do? Every day there were more bees in that area and though I had set out a pile of paper straws in a can, they were completely ignoring them. Were the straws too small? I didn’t know. When I saw a female entering and exiting my SMOKER (!!!) I knew I had to do something. She was leaving the little hole at the base of the bellows and there was NO WAY I was going to let her set-up house in there.

So I found an untreated block of wood, used a drill bit that was the same size as the straws but when drilling I twirled the drill to carve out a bit more wood. I was able to keep most holes from poking through the block of wood. I then set it by the back door and waited. And waited…and waited. While the females kept investigating the cardboard boxes, the ash bin, etc., I was crossing my fingers that they would settle on the block of wood. Check it out:

See the bee butt on the left? And a little head poking out to the right? And then they filled the holes!! YAY!

But it gets better!! They started to finally use the straws:

Nesting in straws

Mason bee buzzing

Those straws have been under the deck for a long time, I even moved them over next to the wheels to try and expand the bees’ options to no avail. But once that drilled wooden block was placed in the area, it’s as if their eyes were opened to the possibilities…and the straws became worthy as well. I am very thrilled.

As to the next neat bit of bee news…I had to do some rapid swarm prevention last night. I’ll leave a tantalizing picture for the next story I need to share:

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Garden chores

In an effort to stay on top of the garden and it’s various requirements, I’ve been out over the last few weeks cleaning up and pruning before spring. I started with the blueberry patch to rejuvenate and remove old wood.

I found an excellent video on youtube produced by the University of Maine. I have read various bulletins, books, instructional sheets about how to prune blueberries but this video finally helped put it all together for me. Pruning helps to keep the bushes productive and ensures a long life for the plants and lots of berries for us 🙂

The picture on the left is of an unpruned bush, the one on the right has just been pruned (different bushes but this gives you an idea of what it should look like). Six to eight canes are left and the branches with many leaves and buds starting are the ones that have been left. Any branch that was sparsely budding was removed. I find I have to go over the bush several times to catch any branches I’ve missed. The same with weeding, going back to an area several minutes later helps me see more weeds I missed the first time around.

Ever since I implemented advice I received from an employee at Glyndon Gardens the bushes have had excellent berry production: use cottonseed meal and cover with peat moss. This is advice for our area, not sure that the same would apply everywhere. So I sprinkle cottonseed meal, then peat moss, then Leaf Gro and cover with a straw mulch. This is the only place I use peat moss in my garden as it is not considered to be a renewable resource.

The weeds have had a fieldday over the last few weeks with some of these warm days and I’ve been out weeding the various beds. It’s been really nice to go out and EXPECT to weed a huge expanse, only to realize there’s just a very small patch because of previous weeding sessions.

The maples started blooming a couple of weeks ago and on those warm days the bees were working the flowers heavily. Since the trees are so tall, I don’t have a picture of the bees, but here’s a bloom:

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I put out my lemon tree to enjoy the warmth as well and within 45 seconds, the bees had found the flowers:

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This morning, the temperature said it felt like 9 degrees, I went out to keep weeding but ended up scraping the hive equipment [best to do this when it’s cold because the bees won’t be flying–they’re always interested in anything that smells like home] and surveying the garden (making plans in my head), cleaning up the asparagus bed, laying down more cardboard to kill the weeds between the raised beds.

I’ve started using my garden notebook more solicitously to keep track of what is planted where and using sturdy metal plant labels for the same reason. The plastic tags plants are sold with or the white labels you can buy have a tendency to become brittle either from the sun or from the cold and end up broken and useless. The best thing I have done for my sanity is to buy metal plant labels. I get these and I love them. I also think taking pictures of the garden bed in question, annotating the photograph (iPhone has a program where you can add text to a picture) and printing the picture would prove to be useful. I may invest in one of those iPhone photo printers as I suspect I would use it often. I can print a picture, paste it in the book and have a reference to use over the planning season. Even better, you can take pictures during various stages of growth to get a good idea of what the bed looks like at various times and purchase or move plants as needed.

Looking forward to productive growing season. Get ready for spring!

Robbing?

As I posted before, I purchased a Broodminder scale when the indiegogo campaign was occurring this summer. My favorite part is just uploading the data to my phone, no plates or balance arm needed. It’s low profile, sleek and light.

The scale provides data showing the humidity and temperature levels. As the electronic portion of the scale is well protected, I believe the humidity level is not super accurate. However, the Broodminder folk do have an in-hive temperature and humidity sensor that one can install if one is interested.

I just have the scale and I love it. I love seeing the bees leave the colony, come back and evaporate their stores. If I choose to, I can have real time data uploaded every second or two. But I have it set to an hourly reading and I think that’s enough.

It’s not perfectly calibrated (you do that by placing a known weight on the hive and adjusting the scale factor) but it’s pretty close. I’m hoping to play with that this weekend.

Here is what the data look like:

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This is what the screen looks like. I can move the bottom chart to see any part of the green line; I can also zoom in and out–just like with my phone, by moving my fingers together or apart. The increments are 6 hours apart, so you can see the weight of the colony drop as the foragers leave and then slowly increase as they bring stores back to the colony.

You may notice that the colony has put on 10 lbs of weight a day for the past few days…I suspect robbing and now need to check my other colonies to make sure they are not the victims. I’ve watched those bees and they do not appear to be going to one of my other hives. I suspect they are robbing someone’s weak colony.

I strongly, strongly recommend getting and using a scale. I can’t wait for spring.

Broodminder Hive Scale

I’ve been on the lookout periodically for a hive scale for some time. Craigslist is the best way to locate a farm scale which tends to be the standard hive scale back yard beekeepers use. What I don’t like about the grain scales is their bulk, lack of availability, need for weight plates and your physical presence to assess the hive weight.

My dream scale was low-profile, easy to use, digital and ideally, moveable from hive to hive. Digital scales cost ~$600, which was why I hadn’t bought one. Then Rusty posted about the Broodminder-w. A digital, low-profile, crowd-funded scale which uses an app for the data. And it cost $150. Brilliant! I ordered one and anxiously waited.

It arrived last week and was installed Sunday.

So simple and unobtrusive!

The metal part (lower part of screen) is the support for the scale, the green part is a plastic piece that goes between the metal base and the scale which serves to protect the bottom of the wooden scale. There is a clear plastic cover that covers the top of the wooden scale to protect it from the elements as well.

A 2×4 is placed at the opposing end, the app is downloaded and after zeroing the scale, the scale is installed, the app picks up the scale and after a few minutes, you have a weight! Since the scale is slightly thicker than a 2×4, another one can be placed behind the scale to allow easy transfer to another hive, just a simple lever against that 2×4 allows me to pull out the scale and put it under another hive.

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The best part is that while I’m on vacation (posting from Lisbon now!) the data continues to be collected and once I get back, I can just upload the data to the app. Nobody has to weigh it for me in my absence!

 

New queen update

Yay!!! Pink hive has a queen! I gave them eggs last weekend and checked for queen cells Saturday, no cells. But what did I see?? Eggs! Single eggs! I looked quickly and there she was…a beautiful queen. All those cells that had been polished and waiting for the last couple of weeks, were being used…fantastic. When checking the colony there was a palpable sense that the hive was in this anticipatory state and it is so gratifying to see their plans and expectations realized.

Checked the new queen (Carniolan), and the workers were completely covering the queen cage. When I put the cage in, I taped the candy plug to delay introduction. Because I’ve had issues with nuc robbing I was delaying her introduction to avoid having her killed. I wasn’t aware that the JZBZ cages are impregnated with queen pheromone to improve acceptance. The cages have other features I’d like to review in a future post. So, General wisdom states to not release the queen if the bees are biting the cage. Honestly, how I’m supposed to see that it beyond me. Another oft made recommendation is to try to move the bees off the screen gently with your finger, if they are difficult to move then they are likely gripping the screen with their mandibles, if they are easy to move, then they have supposedly accepted the queen. I moved one bee, she resisted, I moved a few more and they seemed to move easily…I think.
So I watched them, thought I saw some bees extending their probosces after which they were clearly grooming themselves, as this was how bees spread queen substance among themselves, I decided all was well and took the tape off the candy plug. There were queen cells started which were dispatched. I’ll check the cage in a few days to see if she’s released, then leave them alone for a couple of weeks.

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Using a toothpick to suspend the cage between frames. You can see how the cage is covered. Friend or foe?

 

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You can see their eagerness for the queen.

Status check

Checked hives on Sunday: Pink hive still no queen, not unhappy. Gave them a frame of eggs from the Aqua hive. Need to check the frame for queen cells on Friday or Saturday.

Aqua hive still has the blue queen, doing very nicely.

Two mating nucs robbed out, no queens though nicely exited queen cells…sigh. VERY difficult to have small nucs near the big hives when there’s a dearth.

Gave the nuc a few more frames and expanded their space into one of the failed mating nucs.

Orange hive: hopelessly queenless. Was hopeful when I saw larvae until I realized it was drone brood. Kept checking cells until I found what I was looking for: several eggs in one cell and eggs on sides of cell. SIGH…. Letting this one go. I knew I would have to steal brood from the other two hives to make a nuc for the new Carniolan queen coming on Monday and I didn’t want to weaken my hives any further by boosting a failing laying worker hive. Done with this one.

Purple hive–doing fine, needs more food.

Monday, made up a nuc and picked up the queen. Kept her in my closet. Added her Tuesday night, no queen cells on the brood frames. Will check Friday for queen cells and make sure it’s not robbed out. Will open the worker space to allow interaction with queen on a minimal basis. Crossing fingers!!

Strawberry Bonanza

In our garden, strawberries were planted in late May and I am waiting for them to become strong enough to allow the plants to flower and set fruit. I planted everbearing/day neutral varieties (San Andreas and Mara des Bois) and they will fruit during planting year, no need to wait a year as you would with June-bearing.

In the meantime, Larriland Farm, which is my go-to for pick your own anything, had strawberries available for picking. My son and I picked 10.5 pounds in very hot temperatures in about 45 minutes. I cannot imagine doing that as my job. We came home to make strawberry sorbet, frozen yogurt, strawberry cream cake (the frosting on this cake is FANTASTIC, highly recommend it) and strawberry liqueur.

DIY strawberry liqueur:

 

To get the berries ready for use, I washed them and then set them outside on a grid to dry. It was VERY windy and that helped dry them within minutes.

 

To have strawberries for future smoothies, I laid some out on wax paper on the cookie sheets, and set the sheets in the freezer. This results in individually frozen berries that can be poured into a freezer bag and stored in the freezer. I can then just pull out how ever many berries I want at a time without having to defrost a whole bag. If you dump all the berries in a bag and THEN freeze, you just get a large mass of frozen berries that is not easy or convenient to use.

Blueberries and raspberries are starting to ripen in our garden…stay tuned.