Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Season End Summary

Bees have been very busy on these warm mid-October days.
I know I haven't posted for some time.  Mostly, the year was spent building hives back up to strength.  After coming out of the winter with only one strong hive, I did two splits.  Both took off very well, better in fact than the "mother" hive, which by August was looking less robust than its offspring.  The hive had filled out about 70% of one super, but waiting until mid-September did not produce any more honey than that.
The two new hives were able to fill out enough stores for winter but no excess.
In all, we only got a scant gallon and a quart.  Sadly, we had an open cock on our 5 gallon pail so when I poured honey from the extractor into the filters on the pail, we lost about a pint of precious honey before Kathy discovered our error and notified me with an ear-splitting shriek.
Upon examination of the main hive, I discovered the reason for the lack of energy we had noted was due to the absence of a queen.  She either departed mid-summer or died, and they failed to make a new queen.  Double eggs in cells, eggs planted on the sides of the cells, and no worker brood indicated some laying workers.  So, what to do in September when you discover you have no queen, yet the other two hives are bursting at the seams and this hive also has many bees.  I contacted a member of our local club, Dave, and he was able to provide me with a healthy, vigorous nuc.  I did a newspaper combine and the bees seem to have taken to the new queen.  A few weeks later, and the hive looks healthy and happy again.  I probably will not go into the hive to confirm the queen is present and accepted, unless we get a really nice warm spell.  Even then, things from the outside look much better and from somewhere the bees are busy bringing in some bright orange pollen, a good sign.
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After honey collection, I built this small windbreak fence on the north side of the hives.  I also treated with MAQS for the mites and treated with syrup for nosema as well.  All entrance reducers are in to the small size and I'll wrap in November.  We're still enjoying a very pleasant autumn weather which should continue for another week at least.  Hopefully, with all these precautions, we can come into spring with three strong hives.  If that happens, we could have our best honey harvest yet.
This was one very persistent wasp.  She would fly down onto the landing pad of a hive, get into a real tumble with one or two bees, fly back up, then go down onto the landing pad of the adjacent hive and fight all over again.  I watched her do this several times before I had to quit.  Wonder how that battle came out.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Summer Bounty

Summer in Iowa has fully arrived, and with it lots of things blooming and growing.  It's a busy time, with many fruits and vegetables coming on and needing picking.
First for the bees, though.  We had quite a blow come through last night with a strong cold front bringing 70 mile per hour winds and heavy rain.  Needless to say, I was quite happy to see the hives still standing erect after the storm. Bees early this morning were not very active, but at least one hardy worker was busy gathering pollen from the spiderwort.

Other prairie plants are blooming as well.  We did not do a burn of the prairie segments this year, and with the late arrival of spring it has taken awhile for the new plants to break through the dead growth but now they are looking lush.  The butterfly milkweed is certainly doing its job.

Blueberries are now ripening, about two weeks later than normal for the early varieties.  Winter damage has taken its toll and we will probably only see about half our normal crop.  Red raspberries are beginning to ripen, helped along by the honeybees which really enjoyed the blooms.  Black raspberries are ripe and we will be picking about every other day for a week or so.

Kathy's vegetable garden is looking great.  We have enjoyed some very good early lettuce, onions, radishes, cabbage and peas among other things.  She's disappointed we won't have ripe tomatoes for the fourth of July, but we will eventually have a great crop. 
The vineyard likewise is doing well.  With all the rain, some are completely splitting open.  Otherwise, we should have a fairly decent harvest.  It's a fun time of year, with changes in the yard taking place every day.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Honey Flow

The honey flow is definitely on.  I wondered today if I will ever have a season where all the hives come through winter with a queen and each fills out honey supers.  What a harvest that would be.  This year, I'll likely have to settle for honey from one strong hive, which we are probably fortunate to have.
Bees are clearly all over the red raspberries.  They love it.  Unfortunately, this first part of the raspberry season is almost finished as far as blooms are concerned.  Another week and all will be forming fruit.  So far, bees are not on the clover in the grass much, nor are they on the volunteer buckwheat which has grown in the area we planted last year.  Hopefully the flow will continue and last well into July, which should bring us at least one full super if not two.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Three Times

Hive #1 is packed with bees
I went through the entire box of hive #3, frame by frame, three times and found no queen and no sign of a queen.  This was two weeks after installing the queen. Last week, though , lo and behold, I found a frame full of eggs.  Just one frame.  I wondered if these were dead eggs, ones I had put in from another hive, perhaps one that had died.  A few days later, I looked again and there were numerous frames with eggs, all centered in the cells and a good, full pattern.  Now the early larva is being capped, workers are bringing in pollen and it looks like all is well.  I still haven't seen the queen, but she may be just very shy of the light and quickly hides.  Regardless, I think we now have two verified queenright hives.  It just goes to show that it can take awhile for a newly bred queen to begin laying, even two weeks or more after the fact.

Hive #3 is the one with the blue top.

I added a second super to hive #1, the tall hive in the photo above.  The super I put on last week is probably 75% drawn out and already quite heavy.  Clover in the grass is just starting to come on, and I haven't seen honey bees on it yet so they are getting their nectar from other sources right now.  I always question those who are so sure of the source of their honey, unless they live in an area where there truly is one dominant source.  Here, there are so many possibilities that I can't ever say with any certainty what kind of honey the bees are making.
Not a good photo but you can see plenty of new, white comb.

Even when doing a quick entry into a hive, I always fire up the smoker these days.  Invariably, if I try to do anything without the smoke, I pay for it.  I do try to use natural fuel, wood I have chipped up with our chipper/shredder, mostly from dead pine trees.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Not much progress

Disappointing day.  I had put the new queen in hive #3 on May 7th, so when I went into the hive today I fully expected (hoped?) to see some good brood production.  What did I see?  Nothing.  Nada.  Zipola.  After my near catastrophe with the delivery of the new queen, now I see no evidence of her at all.  No eggs, larva, zero.  Very upsetting.  So I moved over to hive #2, into which I had placed two frames with very good looking eggs the same day.  I looked for queen cells.  Nothing.  Nada Zip.  What is wrong with these bees??

Mostly likely, the culprit is the really crappy, cold,wet weather we've had in the past couple weeks.  One morning this week, beyond the May 15th historical last day of frost, we had frost.  We've had a lot of rain, many very windy, cool, overcast days, and just not a lot of great climate for the bees to do their thing.

So, I put two more good frames of eggs and young larva in hive #2, one frame in hive # 3. placed a super on hive #1 which is really going gangbusters, and will add more in a week.  The near term forecast is very positive, with highs in the low 70's and lows in the 50's all week.  Many things are in bloom and the bees are all over our neighbor's high bushes which border our lane.  There are a lot of drones in my hive, so availability of drones shouldn't be a problem.  We'll keep our fingers crossed.  Sorry about no photos, but I was totally prepared to take pics of the new queen, queen cells, etc., but no such luck.

Oh, here at least was one good thing that happened this week.  Morels!  Right behind our house. Big, fresh, very tasty yellows.  Fantastic.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Another Near Queen Disaster

I did two splits two weeks ago from our one surviving hive.  Although I couldn't find the queen, I examined each frame I pulled out very carefully and was sure she remained in the original hive.  The first split, which I'll now call hive #2, I will try to have the bees make a queen.  In the second split, hive #3, I planned to introduce a Minnesota hygenic queen. 

I started today by checking on hive #2, looking for any sign of larva or eggs, hoping to find none.  I found none, which meant the queen was still in hive #1.  I found two frames with a lot of good looking eggs in the top box of #1 and put them in the other hive.  I'll pull more frames out in a week.  There were now plenty of drones in the hive, so there should be plenty to mate with the queen when she emerges.

Now, for the queen I ordered.  I've been very happy with B and B Honey Farm and the queens I've gotten from them have been very productive.  I originally was told they would be available last week but when I called to see if I could confirm dates, they said May 5th would be the first date they would send them out.  I asked to be notified via email when they had shipped her and they said they would.  Well, I came in for lunch after working with the bees and Kathy and I were just about to go back out again to work in the garden, etc., when the doorbell rang.  Kathy said "I'll bet that's a queen.", though we had not received an email indicating she had been shipped.  Sure enough, the postal delivery guy had placed the envelope containing the bees between the storm door and front door of the house.  Since the house faces south, this space between the doors can get so hot on a sunny day I can't even touch the surface of the door.  It surely must get 160 degrees or so in that space, enough to fry the queen in a very short time.  If we had already gone out to the back to work, she'd have certainly died. 
Kathy discussed with the mailman the importance of making sure the bees are delivered directly to us.  It clearly says on the package that there are live queen bees enclosed, and our phone number with directions to call us are in big wording on the package as well. He admitted he had not even looked at it.

Anyway, she is now installed and hopefully soon we'll be queenright again in all 3 hives.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Good News/Near Disaster

Ok, maybe not necessarily a disaster, but I almost caused a lot of trouble for myself.
First, the good part.  It was a 64 degree day and partly sunny, and we just came back from a trip to Virginia to see our daughter and her family plus an added trip to Charleston, SC for fun.  I was anxious to see how the bees were doing, and I wanted in particular to see if we had a queen.
Kathy prepared some sugar syrup and added the fumagilin B to a gallon of that.  I gathered up my supplies and tools and headed out to the hive.  I had set up a new stand, which I plan to use to hold at least two hives.  I set it perpendicular to the line of the old hive location but only a few feet away.
I pulled the top box (of 3) off and set it aside, as well as the middle box. I began looking through the bottom box, but only found frame after frame of bees loaded with pollen but no capped or uncapped brood.  I took this box off and set it on the new hive stand, on a screened bottom board.
 After pulling one frame out of the middle box, I could see right away that the next frame had capped brood.  Hurray--I was mostly sure this hive was queenless, so this was a great sight.  I pulled a frame out and examined it briefly and things looked fine.
The new hive stand
I picked up th box and set it on top of the bottom box on the new stand.  Lifting it, I saw hundreds of bees that had crawled out of the bottom still on the board.  I scooped a bunch onto the inner cover, which was lying nearby, and dumped them on the old bottom board which I propped near the new hive location.  I decided I had better take a second good look at the bees still on the board, just in case the queen had dropped out.  In only moments, I saw the queen crawling around on that board. I quickly used my hive tool to gently move her onto my hand.  I placed her on the landing board in front of the hive.  She very quickly went into the entrance and into the hive.  Whew!!!  Well, she was a good looking queen, Minnesota hygenic, and made it through the winter in fine shape.  
I put the styrofoam feeder on top and added the gallon of medicated syrup.  I left the spacer on, since there was still a bit of a patty they were busy consuming.  I'll probably take that off in a few days.
This hive was overflowing with bees.  The top box is still heavy with honey.  Why this many bees was able to make it through the winter with plenty of food left and I lost two hives is a puzzle.
I will order one Minn. hygenic queen this week and make one split.  In mid-May, I'll make a second split and let them try to make a queen.  If numbers continue to go up, I could make a third split later and see about giving that one away.

Another good sign of spring--our ospreys have returned!  They apparently arrived while we were gone last week.  Here you see her sitting on the nest.  Sorry about the fuzzy picture, taken through my telescope and a screened window.  This is on the cell phone tower just beyond our property.  I think this is the fourth year they have nested in this site.  

Friday, March 7, 2014

Cup 1/3 Full

Temps in the mid-forties, but that is the only good news.  Well, I guess having one hive still alive is better than none, but we lost our 8 framer.  It was really full of bees, and this last cold snap last week (15 below) was just too much.  They had consumed most of one patty, but were just too high in the top box.  I suppose if I had pulled some frames last time and put in some honey frames, they might have made it, but they were just too angry at the time and flying out all over the place when it was only 20 degrees so I didn't want to open the hive more than I did.  I suppose I should have anyway.
The remaining hive looks like good numbers and there is a full box of honey in the top box yet, so go figure.  I won't know if there is a queen until it really warms up more.  The other good news is the long-term forecast, which though still on the cool side, is hundreds of times better than the past several weeks with some nights above freezing.  It's about time.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

My Cup is 2/3 Full

This is the first day anywhere approaching the warmth of just above freezing, so I had to get out to check on the bees.  It has been exceptionally cold.  It was 18 below zero the other night, a high of only 6 degrees yesterday.  Today it was edging above 35 and sunny.
I started with hive #2.  This hive came through last winter very strong, so much so that I was able to do 3 splits from it and still take about 100 pounds of honey.  We left probably 80 pounds of honey in the hive for the winter.  When I did the final warm weather check, the queen was still laying and the bees looked very healthy.
I didn't see any dead bees on the fresh snow in front of the hive and none flying, though, which concerned me.  As soon as I opened it, I noticed a lot of frost on the inner cover and this pile of dead bees.  Pulling a few frames from the middle, though, there was no evidence the bees had eaten any of this honey.  The top box was still full of food.  Looking at the frames I pulled, though, I saw a lot of evidence of nosema.
Note the long brown streaks on the frame (with good, untouched honey).  I'll need to do some research to see what I need to do to these contaminated frames.  I did not treat in the fall for nosema and will need to study this as well.  I hate to lose this queen, who was a fantastic layer.
This is hive #1 and those are live bees on top.  I again saw frost on the inner cover and no sign of life upon opening, but as I began to work a frame loose bees began to crawl up through the frames.  Top box is still full of honey here as well, but I placed a patty on top anyway just for good measure.  This hive had no apparent laying queen when I last opened them up so I hope she was just not laying.  This is the offspring of the queen from hive #2 so I hope she survives.

Hive #3, the 8 framer, also had no dead bees in front or actively flying bees.  As soon as I opened it, though, there was a squirming mass in the slot of the inner cover.  I took it off and the top of the frames were totally covered with bees.  They were definitely not happy with being disturbed, and when I tried to peek a bit more at a frame to check on honey many took to the air, with quite a few striking me in the (veiled) face and buzzing angrily.  I gave them a patty and gently closed them up.  I had several follow me the couple hundred feet up to and into the barn.  I don't use smoke in the winter, but may with this particular group of characters.

So, two out of three is probably better than I anticipated, and, if we make it through into spring, twice as strong as what we started with last year.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Amazing Bee Photos

The U.S. Army has developed a new technique that was applied to photographing bees of America.  To see these amazing images presented by the National Geographic Society, click here.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Another New Virus

Researchers have discovered a new virus affecting honey bees that is a cross-over from plants to insects.  It is called the Tobacco Ringspot Virus, previously not known to infect insects.  To read about it, click on Tobacco Ringspot Virus.

How much this virus will impact the bee population and to what extent it may contribute to CCD will likely be the focus of further research.

In a more positive vein, my daughter, Jessica, our "resident" entomologist,  sent a link about what sounds like a very good program for beekeepers in Ethiopia, a country in an area that has been involved in beekeeping since the earliest times.  Read about WEEMA.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

January Deep Freeze

"Little darling, it's been a long, cold, lonely winter."  Here Comes the Sun, the Beatles from Abbey Road.
Ok, at least it's definitely been a long, cold one so far with much more yet to come.  I did get out and check on the bees a couple days ago when the temps were in the upper 30's, a rarity this winter.  Bees are alive in all 3 hives.  The two bigger hives still felt pretty heavy, so I left them alone for now but the 8 framer seemed on the light side and the bees were clustered right at the top.  I loaded up another medium box with honey frames from the fall and put it on top.  Hopefully that won't be too much space for them to have to deal with.  I also made 3 inch spacers to put on the other two hives so I can do a sugar feed once the temperatures rise again to where I can take the lids off briefly.  Today with a high in the single digits is just too cold.

With nothing much more to do about the bees, reading blogs, message boards and other information about bees and beekeeping keeps me entertained.  One very entertaining and informative bit of information I came across as I was getting prepared to give a talk about bees to a local rotary club.  We forget in today's world of processed carbohydrates how important honey was in earlier times.  It was so  important to early settlers in the midwest that a war was almost fought between the folks living in the Iowa territory and the state of Missouri in the late 1830's.  Called the Honey War, what began as a border dispute between the two entities resulted in hundreds of militia lining up on both sides of the disputed territory, armed with rifles, pitchforks and knives, when some folks from Missouri cut down 3 honey trees in the disputed area claimed by Iowa.  It took a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1851 to settle the issue in Iowa's favor.  For some enjoyable reading about this event, check out Honey War.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year

Twenty-Fourteen is coming in with a wintry blast.  Snow today, with temps dipping to the minus 20 degree range tomorrow night.  Good luck, bees!  They were flying last Saturday with 40 degree temps, getting drinks from the melted snow on top of the hive.  Hopefully they are snuggled in nice and warm now.

Happy New Year, everyone.  I hope this isn't going to be a winter like last, when nationwide we saw 40% hive losses.  The extreme cold temps early on we're experiencing don't bode well, and this may be the coldest we've experienced with our bees in the 6 years we've been fortunate enough to be working with them.  It will be interesting to see what the spring brings.

I had news this morning from Mike White, the ISU extension viticulture expert, about a free publication from ISU on how to keep your bees safe from pesticides.
 Here is a link where you can download the publication.

We wish everyone a very happy new year.  May it be one of the best.