Our dog Honey loves spring walks as much as I do. Every day there are more colors opening up. She revels in stopping to smell the gladiolus on a beautiful March Sunday.
Our neighborhood has these beautiful "tulip trees" as I call them. They come and go within a two-week period. I was struck by how beautiful and large these purple, pink and white petals are, and the fact that this neighbor decided to leave them on the ground as the flowers begin to drop.
The yellow bells are trumpeting out a vivid call for March.
The tulip poplars, including this grand giant, are still bare, showing only last year's flower husks. From there new buds will open in the coming weeks. In the last two days leaves have begun to sprout from the ends of each branch and twig.
With spring in bloom and more splits underway, it was time to prep more frames. I recently discovered a trick to using grooved bottom bars for my waxed plastic-sheet foundation: Put a popsicle stick on the bottom to turn it into a grooved bottom bar. Yes, I've gone back to using foundation. It is more efficient and easier, yielding less drone and honey cells and more room for worker brood. The things you learn after 5+ years among the bees.
I made use of my backlog of Duragilt and Duracomb foundation. Everyone loves to bash this stuff. My bees don't care, and they seem to love it, drawing it out beautifully.
Yvonne is also busy planting the spring garden. Olive and Honey are always eager to help. I love these times, of new beginnings and rebirth.
And then I went into my two hives which a week prior I'd made queenless with an artificial swarm, and I found this. Beautiful frames full of tight brood patterns and queen cells. This one has three on it, two on the bottom bar at left and one with a bee butt sticking out of it near the bottom of the frame at right. Each frame basically represents a split I made, until I ran out of space and equipment.
Here you can see nurse bees actually capping one queen cell at top, while the one just below it has already been capped with wax. Eight days from these, a queen will emerge. The first to emerge usually will seek out any remaining queen cells and sting the un-emerged queens dead in their cells. Sometimes a battle is afoot when more than one virgin queen roams the hive. Nature ensures only one is queen for each colony. And just as the bees insist on having backup plans, I insist on giving each split two or three queen cells to better replicate Nature's way.
More QC's and more bee butts, packing royal jelly in there, feeding the larvae. All in all, I was able to make 6 more attempted splits off the two hives, while the over-wintered laying queens and a small contingent were moved to their own nucleus hive boxes.
Queen cells were everywhere! Somewhere after the fourth or fifth frame of them I stopped being surprised, but reveled in it nonetheless.
Sometimes you destroy the QC's when you remove the boxes, as happened here. But was I dreaming, or did my eyes see something else?
They do, indeed! An intact QC on the top bar of this cluster of cells. So this, and another frame with multiple cells was left in this parent hive so they can make their own new queen.
This is utter bee porn, I know. Look at them go, working on this queen cell. Here, you can see the difference between worker brood, the smallest capped cells shown here, drone brood where males come from, the bullet-shaped cells to the right, and a queen cell, which has a nurse bee sticking out of it packing in more royal jelly.
And yet another frame of queen cells. I not only ran out of equipment to house them all, but sunlight as well. I said my prayers of thanks and shook my head in wonder. Artificially swarming my parent hives obviously is a method that works for me.
One of my two over-wintered hives which I did not make queenless got another boost: the very first honey super of the season! Yes, it's that time already. The nectar flow is underway. I could tell as the bees were eating less syrup out of their feeders and the hives began to take on unusual odors from all the different nectars and pollens flooding in. Here I'm starting with 10 frames, and I am using foundation on everything from here on in (too many stretched and drone frames from going foundationless for a few years). Once they draw the frames out with new comb I will turn this into a 9-frame box. At that point they will make the combs even fatter and pack even more honey in those cells, which make for a much easier honey harvest. This box represents about 35 pounds of honey once all is drawn and capped. Yippeee!!!
So one queen that I'd artificially swarmed and placed into a nuc box shown here in the bottom left of the frame had been experiencing a steady population decline. That left my scratching my head, since the queen was still laying and is a rock star queen. What is going on, I wondered for two weeks?
As I tell my mentees, custom equipment equals custom problems which require custom solutions. The divided deep chamber which houses two separate colonies here in the bottom box sits atop a shim and is screened off at the bottom. In my hast last year when installing the equipment I simply put two entrance reducers atop one another to "seal" up the bottom of the hive. Unfortunately for this new nuc made up by this wonderful over-wintered queen, its bees were confused when they discovered an entrance hole on one of those entrance reducers. Yep, I found a cluster of bees on the bottom of the screen underneath the box on the WRONG SIDE, but I was glad they'd managed to stay alive. So I smoked, smoked and smoked them out, puffs of which smoke everywhere. Bees were flying left and right. And then I smoked some more. And before the smoke cleared I quickly duct-taped up the problem to prevent them going back. This led to a BUNCH of confused bees and worse yet, it started to rain.
As the raindrops were coming down, the bees clustered on the other colony's box and top wondering where to go. So I added an upper entrance on the back side, hoping they would find it and put one of their bricks standing up in the universal sign of "attention here!" on my next inspection.
Then I had to travel for work, to beautiful Miami. It, too, was experiencing spring colors in all its glory. I fell in love with this vine that was taking over a tree in someone's driveway.
Before I left for Miami I did a newspaper combine of a couple of frames of bees, brood and food with this nucleus colony. I DO love this queen and needed to do right by her. Adding the bees was a complete success! When I returned home, I found bees happily going to and from the hive in their proper entrance. To celebrate, I removed the top entrance around back (they were no longer using it). When I inspected it, they were all happy campers and gave me a "What? We're just hanging out doing our thing" kind of stare and buzz. It was lovely. And the queen was laying even better than ever, rejuvenated at having more nurse bees to tend her eggs, so laying away she was going!
So on this latest round of queen cell splits, I did something I remembered from my first year of success way back in 2011: screen in the bees for at least 3 days to help them forget their original hive location and re-orient to their new box. On my first round of splits where I made 3 starts, I soon discovered that of 2 of them most of the bees had returned back to the parent hive's location. Those 2 starts did not pan out, unfortunately. But live and learn. So in for 3 days this batch stayed, thanks to more duct tape. My mentee Rod Caverly came over to let the bees out for me while I was out of town. When I returned, all were truly buzzing with bees coming and going from all their new hive entrances. The 3-day rule worked!
Remember when I said 2 of 3 didn't work? That meant that 1 did. YES, here she is, my first NEW QUEEN OF 2016!!! Ain't she a beaut?! The hive seemed restless, while calm, with most bees especially skittish on the combs. I wasn't sure I'd find a laying queen just yet, but the calendar math worked out to where I should be able to. And BOY HOWDY is she laying beautiful single eggs in a GORGEOUS tight pattern all over the place. She was EXTREMELY camera shy, running fast away from the sun so I had to work like nuts to get this photo. Delighted, I am hopeful this is a portend of a glorious spring.
Things are really booming in the bee yard, as blossoms begin to bloom here in Charlotte. Dead nettle is one of the first "weeds" to put on their colors for the season, and my honey bees love it.
This little bee worked a patch of dead nettle so fast it was amazing to watch. Some day I'll have to remove all this from our raspberry and blackberry patch, but for the time being we have a dead nettle patch.
Red maples are bursting open throughout the Queen City. It's a valuable pollen source for honey bees, hungry after winter.
'Tis also the season for mentees to get more hands-on experience. I put my group to work again, letting them work in pairs. At left, Kathy Baughman and Mary Fabian inspect and record results from one of my booming hives, while Chris and Mary Jo Odom inspect another over-wintered nucleus colony (nuc). They ended up making a split off of that nuc and one other. More splits, more queens, more bees!
And here is her royal highness just before I relocated her in an artificial swarm. She's in the bottom right corner, having just laid an egg.
Mary Jo shows off a frame heavy with brood, bees and honey. The brood pattern here is exceptional. This queen is a rock star.
And here is the second over-wintered 2015 queen we relocated in an artificial swarm on Sunday. Who says queens can't be found on honey frames? Here is proof that sometimes they do find their way there. Notice the drone brood at the bottom of the frame (top left in this photo). With mating season having just begun, I allow drones from my rock star queens to emerge and populate the skies. We're spreading great genetics and want to provide our share of male bees that will help make future queens. Here in Charlotte we really do put the queens in the Queen City!
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Tom Davidson is the owner and beekeeper at T's Bees.
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