Monday, May 16, 2011

Done Swarming?

It has been 8 days since we had our first swarm.  From what I've read, an afterswarm can follow about 8 days after the primary swarm.  The bees have been pretty settled in with two days of cool, rainy 50 degree weather but were out flying well today.  You can see them flying if you zoom in on the photo above.  Hopefully, they are settling in and the threat of another swarm from #2 or a first swarm from #1 is over.  Bees were busy but looking normally busy, bringing in quite a lot of pollen.  Dandelions are turning to seed now.  Oak, birch and ash are producing pollens as well as many blooming flowers.  Keeping the fingers crossed on the swarming.  Hopefully they are now thinking HONEY!
While the bees were busy, I made myself busy and did a spraying in our little vineyard (just over 30 vines), from which we make great juice and a drinkable wine, at least most years.  I like this time of year with the vineyard, when the vines are just leafing out and the new grapes are just coming on.  It's also bluebird time, and one of the houses attached to a vine post is currently occupied and did not like my presence too much.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Still swarm season

The bees continue to be all over the hives.  Our number 2 hive, which swarmed, still looks as though it hasn't lost a single bee.  This morning they were even more abundant on hive #1, so we decided to go into it and remove swarms cells.  I also wanted to make sure they had a good top opening.
There were certainly a lot of bees.  They were completely covering the front of the entire hive, bearding off the outer cover and off the bottom board.  Not so many in the honey super, which I noted they had begun to draw out some frames a bit.
There was plenty of larvae, and though I didn't look at all the frames, a couple I did look at certainly had some room in it for the queen to lay in.  But it was hot (90 degrees--this will be a record for the 10th of May), the bees were definitely grumpy and telling us so.  Kathy didn't think they were as bad as I thought they were.  I did find a few swarm cells in the top two boxes, only one looking capped.  We removed those.  In the bottom box, however, there was a real mess hanging down off the frames.  Big, unruly globs of comb with brood.  We removed all of it.  It probably gets that way because of my screened bottom board.  The screen sags, which gives them way too much room down at the bottom.  I need to come up with a solution for this.
We closed it up, making sure there was plenty of air coming in the top and space that they could enter through.
This morning, we put out a nuc with lemongrass oil and several frames.  If there is a swarm from either, hopefully we can trap them.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Swarmed!!

Well, what looks like bees getting ready to swarm sometimes is only bees getting ready to swarm.
Rats.
Last night, they did settle down and went back into the hive.  There was normal, busy activity this morning on a day that has been the warmest in weeks.  In the early afternoon I went out to check them again and immediately saw that things had notched up several degrees in intensity.  There were thousands of bees in the air, moving about in a frenzied swirl.  It wasn't long that they began to rest on the trunk and one limb of a recently dead scotch pine near the hive.  (See the short video "First Swarm" at the bottom of the page.)
Kathy went in to get some honey and I got the 5 frame nuc box I had made last year.  We put some honey on the frames in the nuc and I set it right under the swarm, with the lid slightly ajar.  There were still many bees joining the swarm, so I didn't want to try to take it right then.  Besides, we had to leave for a couple hours.  My thoughts were they would remain in this location for awhile.  Wrong again.  When I checked right away after getting home, the swarm had already departed.  I had really hoped they would opt to go into the box.  Not so lucky.
So, now the question is this:  what the heck do we do?  After reviewing what information I have and checking out things on the web, as with almost every aspect of beekeeping there are way too many "expert" opinions on what to do.  My impulse was to go in and scrape away all but one swarm cell in the hive.  It seems most agree that, if there are multiple swarm cells, either  the next new queen will sting and eliminate the others and take over as the ruling monarch, or we may face a succession of afterswarms, in which each new virgin queen takes off with a number of bees, continually diminishing the strength of the hive.  Michael Bush, whose advice I listen carefully to, says, I think, it is best to leave the cells alone. You don't know which is the strongest or best.  I might kill off all but one only to find that the remaining queen is weak or doesn't even survive.  Then we are left queenless.  He suggests letting the bees decide and the right queen will eventually take charge of the hive.  
I thik I will follow that advice, though I find inaction hard to take.  I will go in later in the week and see what is going on there at least.
Why did it happen?  I had reversed hives, removed some old honey frames and replaced them with fresh, hoping there would be enough room for the queen to lay her eggs.  This was a very vigorous queen, though, and for two years in a row we came through the winter with huge numbers in each hive and still a ton of honey  left.  I think she simply didn't have enough room for the brood.  That I will have to watch more carefully in the future.
I know we'll feel sad for a bit, mostly with the thought we maybe could have better monitored the situation.  We'll now likely not get as much honey as we had hoped.  But, maybe we still will.  At any rate, it was an interesting experience.  Just hope it doesn't happen too often.

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Calm Before the Swarm?

Or is it just the bees out enjoying a rare (for this season) time outdoors?  I'm thinking (hoping) the latter.  I have really never witnessed a swarm, so don't really know what to expect.  If this were animated, you'd witness a steady march of bees up the hive to the cluster near the top.  This was late afternoon, and many bees were in the air, but much pollen was being brought in and there also appeared to be a number of bees just seemingly taking orienteering flights.  At least they were just circling around in front of the hive, as well as I could track them with so many bees about.  We walked out back later, after supper, and the number was considerably smaller and I sure didn't detect a swarm anywhere nearby, so my guess is they were all just out enjoying the pleasant afternoon and are gradually making their way back into the hive as the evening coolness descends.  The other hive was also very active, with a smaller group clustered on the front, but not like this one.  I've seen some big bearding in the summer months, but never this early.
With this hive, you notice there are four boxes, with a queen excluder.  I did put a honey super on 3 weeks ago, and when I checked last week there had been a little comb drawn out but not a significant amount.  I think there is enough room in the hive, though this queen seems pretty vigorous.  Maple, ash and birch are producing pollen at present, and the dandelion bloom is in full stride.  There may be an early honey flow if the promised warmth of the coming week holds up.
I also added a super to hive #1, though the new frames I had put in the top box were only about half way full. With so much in bloom right now, I want to stay ahead of the game.
With so many bees in the air coming and going in this part of our property, you do have to kind of keep an eye out, since they seem to be everywhere.  Note a few dandelions that have not been mowed under, and the large pasture with horses in the background.  There are woods both to the left and right of this photo as well.