Sunday, March 23, 2008

It bites to have mites

I overwintered my hive with drone comb, and I am wondering if that may have been a mistake. The first inkling of this is when I noticed that my mite drop was higher than I would like (about 25 mites in 24 hours), so I decided to do a sugar dusting and pull out the drone comb. Luckily for me, most of the cells on the drone comb were still capped. This means that that most of the mites were still in those capped cells and had not yet hatched. I pulled out the drone frame and replaced with with a new drone frame of drone comb. I am somewhat lucky with the timing, if I had waited until after these drones hatched, I would have a healthy crop of mites on my bees.

In addition to swapping my drone frame, I also dusted the bees with powdered sugar. Hopefully, today was a big setback for the varroa mites in my hive and a big boost to the health of my bees.

I also gave the bees some light sugar syrup (two parts water to one part sugar) to boost production of new bees. I had noticed that lots of bees were getting water from a nearby bucket with rainwater. When bees are gathering water, that is a sign that brood production is underway (and also a sign that there is no nectar flow underway). I want my bees to raise lots of new bees so they can gather nectar to make honey, but I don't want them to build up too soon so that they swarm. I am walking a fine line, I suppose.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Here kitty kitty...

I have some unused hive bodies and a few extra plastic frames, so I decided to try my luck with establishing two bait hives. The theory behind bait hives is to simply make a nice place for bees to live and hope a passing swarm will decide to take up residence there. Of course, the success of this strategy is a function of swarming activity in the area. European bees can swarm about once a year, and part of good beekeeping is to reduce swarming tendencies to less than that. Africanized honeybees can swarm eleven times or so per year. Luckily, AHBs have not made it as far north as I am. The best time to catch a swarm is in April, May or June. A swarm caught later than that will not have sufficient time to draw comb and make enough honey to make it through the winter.

I obtained two viles of swarm lure from the State Department of Agriculture to improve my chances. I set up one bait hive "by the book". That is, it is the size of two medium bodies and it has a one inch hole for an entrance. It is also about 10 feet off the ground, sitting on the stairs leading to my woodshop. I would have liked to have some empty drawn comb to put in it, but I have don't have any that is not being used. Instead, I just have a couple plastic frames and foundation in it.

The other bait hive breaks the rules. It is simply two medium nuc bodies stacked on top of each other, and it is sitting right on the ground. I threw in two frames of plastic foundation for good measure.

With a whole lot of luck, maybe one of these hive will catch the eye of a swarm.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Whiskey for my workers, beer for my drones...

As noted in my first inspection of the year, I found some capped drone cells on the drone frame. Tonight on my hive's landing board, I found the first drone I have seen this year. Unfortunately, he was dead and had obvious varroa mite damage (deformed wings). As soon as the weather permits, I will get the mites that did this and make them pay...

Monday, March 3, 2008

A Tisket, A Tasket...

...a yellow pollen basket. Actually, it is a corbicula with yellow pollen, but the point is the same. I like this picture for some reason.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Hornets: the other things with wings and stingers

My assistant beekeeper made me look like a fool. She spotted an object lying on the ground in the distance, which appeared to me to be a chunk of concrete. She identified the object as a "bees nest" (she knows hornets are not bees, but she calls them bees to irk me). I then did what any self respecting beekeeper would do. I asked her if she was smoking crack, because I know a hornet's nest when I see one, and that is not a hornet's nest. Turns out she was right, and I was wrong. It was a hornet's nest.

Obviously, this time of year the nest was not in use, and the gray paper wrapper that would normally surround the comb was gone. There were two distinct layers of comb were the hornets were raising their brood.

The below pic is pretty cool- it is of the lower layer of comb. The cells on the bottom layer are much larger than the cells on the first layer. I think the larger cells are queen and drone cells. Like bumblebees, hornets produce queens and drones at the end of the season. The queens mate and then go underground where they emerge in the spring and build a new nest. This is totally different than what honeybees do. A strong colony of honeybees will make a few new queens, and then just before the new queens emerge, the old queen and half the workers will leave the hive and start a new hive somewhere else. This is called swarming. Back at the old hive, the new queens then emerge and duke it out as to who will become the new queen.

Anyway, check out these hornet queen cells: