Thursday, May 30, 2013

Into the Hives! (Inspections 2 and 3)

The title of this post could also be "We Hope We Know What We're Doing".  Please remember, we are very new at this.  This is an account of what we're observing and doing, NOT a recommendation of what to do.  Only time will tell if we're on the right track.  So in the meantime, read along, look at the pictures and appreciate all the amazing skills that the BEES possess.

Inspection #2:  Between the first inspection and the second, six days past.  One of the challenges to checking in with the hives often (something top bar beekeeping requires) is that sometimes the weather doesn't cooperate with work schedules making it hard to plan for an inspection.  The weather should be mild in temperature, sunny and calm.  And, going in between 10 am and 5 pm is optimal. Waiting for this perfect set of circumstances is hard- especially when we don't want to neglect our hive inspection duties.

That said, our 2nd inspection happened around 4 pm (okay- nearing evening, though) on a very warm (good), sunny (good), and very windy (not-so-good) day.  Thankfully, the bees were very forgiving and cooperated nicely.

 inside a top bar hive

 bees and chickens (and Jamey) coexisting just fine

Both hives showed an increase in food (pollen, unripe honey, and capped honey) stores.  Both showed signs of having built new comb on some of the bars, but there was still plenty of room, so only one new top bar was added to each hive.  We were able to see lots of eggs in good formation and even spotted the queen in the lower hive.

lower hive queen

The upper hive had some new things to show us.  No, we still haven't been able to get our eyes on the queen (not since finding her on the ground hiving day) but we know she's in there because there were eggs everywhere.  For the first time, we spotted drone cells.  These are cells that the bees build an addition onto the end of- to raise drone (male) bees in.  Here you can see some capped and in the pupae stage.  Up until this point, the hive has been a girls' club only.

the bulging cells are drone cells

The other thing we found in that same hive was a supersedure queen cell built right in the center of a comb.  From what we understand, if the bees are unhappy with their queen, they start raising a new one.  They build a special queen cell, coax the queen to lay an egg in it and then feed it special food, creating another queen bee.  When it emerges, it will fight the old queen (to the death), usually winning, and takes over queenly duties (after taking a mating flight with some drones, of course).

supersedure cell in the center surrounded by capped brood and unripe honey

We thought our queen was doing nicely, but goodness, the bees know best.  Finding this queen cell freaked us out a bit and we started seriously considering dividing this upper hive in two.  After hemming and hawing, we decided to try it.  The plan was to locate the original queen and move her and 6 bars of brood and food into a third hive Jamey built.  The remaining bees would hatch out the new queen in the upper hive and we'd gain another colony/hive in the process.  Unfortunately, when we attempted to do this a couple days later, we couldn't find the original queen (surprise, surprise) and it appeared that the queen cell was now empty and being dismantled.  Had the new queen already emerged and killed the first?  We had no idea so we left well enough alone.

Attempting a split (or divide) which was aborted because we couldn't find the queen.  Third hive on right.

Inspection #3:  Ten days after the second inspection on a cooler, sunny, and once again windy afternoon (2 pm), we went back in the hives, a bit worried as to what we might find.  Did we have a laying queen in the upper hive?  Had a new queen killed off the old, mated and would soon be laying eggs?  Did both queens die in the fight for queenship?  Or did we still have the original queen?  Here's where we realized marking a queen would be very helpful, so we ordered a queen marking kit (but didn't have it yet).

The lower hive looked okay.  We spotted the queen, lots of eggs, brood and food stores.  They seem to be doing fine, although not building as much as we would have thought after 10 days.  They completely built out one empty bar, but other bars were left almost the way they were from last time (here's where taking detailed notes is really helpful).  We did notice some drone cells which is a sign that the colony is growing.  This was encouraging.  Because they still had bars to build on, we didn't add any new bars, but did do some rearranging so they sense the space they have.  This hive remains at 16 bars.

lower hive queen- light in color and easy to spot every time

The upper hive was going gangbusters.  All 15 bars were completely built out and bees were everywhere.  The supersedure cell was still there, but dismantled.  Drones were visible crawling around and more drone cells were capped.  On bar 9, we saw what looked to be two swarm cells in the making (no picture, sorry).  Swarm cells are queen cells built along the bottom or side edge of combs.  The bees build these because they are feeling crowded and want to raise a new queen so they can send the old queen and a bunch of bees out in a swarm to make more room.  Good for them, lousy for us.  The swarm will then have to find their own new place to live.  Our fingers are crossed that if this happens, they'll choose the empty hive sitting three feet away, but we're not counting on it.

Beautiful, fresh new comb.  Old, recycled comb looks dark after years of exposure to feces and pesticides. Cycling out old comb and allowing the bees to build new comb keeps everyone healthier.

If we would have been able to spot the current queen, we would have divided the hive then and there, but since we couldn't find her (we did see plenty of eggs), we decided to leave it all together.  We did add 6 empty bars throughout the hive to hopefully counteract their swarming urge in the meantime.  This hive now has 21 bars and if it keeps up at this rate, will soon fill the hive and need to be divided regardless.

Some beekeepers don't recommend splitting a hive it's first spring.  Others advocate it when the conditions are right.  Beekeeping readers, any thoughts/experience to share??

Our queen marking kit has arrived, so we're ready to mark her if we ever see her.  We're trying to wait a week then we'll peek in again and see what the bees will show us.

The best advice we're heard is to watch the bees, take note as to what it is they're doing and anticipate their plans, helping them swarm by dividing the hive, etc.  They have amazing instinct and we can learn a lot just by watching them.

While we know this is excellent advice, we have so much learning to do in the way of recognizing their signs and resisting the urge to micromanage.  Reminds me a bit of parenting....:-).

Sam and I (and even my dad when he was down recently) continue to get very close while working with the bees without getting stung.  Jamey hasn't been stung during inspections since hiving the bees that first day.  He has gotten stung a couple times while sitting out near the bees at dusk (not the best time of day to look like a large, threatening creature so we can't blame the bees).

If you keep bees, how are yours doing this time of year?  We'd love to hear.
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  1. Yikes!! I'm glad you guys know what you are doing!! I'm scared of bees but your hives are really interesting.
    Please pray for me as I am dealing with some things that I can't go "public".

  2. Hurray for bees! We did our second inspection this past weekend and were able to go ahead and add the second hive body (we're currently doing Langstroths). I'm hoping to have an experienced bee-keeping friend come and help me with the next inspection this weekend and we may be ready to add some honey supers. We did find some comb and honey on the inner-cover this last time, so I scraped that off and we had our first 3-4 Tablespoons of honey ;)

  3. We got a swarm last spring and split the colony about 6 weeks later when they were producing a ton of swarm cells. BOTH colonies are going gangbusters and made it through the winter unscathed (40-60% losses here in VA). My gut tells me if they are going to swarm, you'll see more than just 2 cells, and if they are going to supercede the queen, there would be more than just one. Also, she wouldn't be laying because prior to swarming, they stop feeding her and skinny her up by running her around so she can fly. Was there any larvae IN the cells? A lot of times, they are empty. It's when there's larvae in them that you only have a small window to act (usually by the time the cells are capped, they've swarmed.)

    1. There were no eggs/larva in the swarm cells, but the supersedure cell was already capped when we first saw it. Thanks for sharing your experience and thoughts- it is SO helpful to hear about what others are doing/have done:-).

  4. Queen marking kit? Had no idea you could mark a bee? You have peaked my I must investigate!

  5. This comment goes back to your old house post, which was a reminder to me to try to love my VERY old house (1870s) more than I do. I have to admit, I would love something with good plumbing, new electrical work, closets in my children's bedrooms (in the original part of the house) and woodwork that doesn't have so many coats of (leaded) paint on them that practically looking at it makes it chip. I've just sort of given up in many areas. But, it does have a rich history, with my children being the fourth generation in my husband's family to be raised here, and that aforementioned woodwork is actually really cool if the paint would stay on and/or I had the time/energy/desire to remove the paint. And the only bathroom downstairs being right off the kitchen, while a bit awkward, is actually pretty handy with young children who must relieve themselves during every meal. :-)
    Anyway, I think it was the same day I saw that post that we were at the library and I saw the children's book called Our Old House, by Susan Vizurraga. I think you'd like it. It's a picture book, and the house is in the South, so some things are very different from ours (no wisteria creeping on our Illinois porch), but it's a neat look at a house with a history.

  6. This bee stuff is FASCINATING! I have found myself saying, "on this blog I read, she's talking about bees, and did you know?...." haha!

  7. Your bees look GREAT! I lost 2 hives this colony collapse within two weeks of each other. Last year I lost a hive due to the chemical in treated seed corn :(. We live in an agricultural area, so I know this year it is chemically related. It is kind of discouraging! BUT...I was blessed to acquire a swarm and the hive seems to be doing really well!I am praying they can make it and we will try and split the hive when they are ready!



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