This grand old tree, I believe a red oak, is a favorite of honey bees and mason bees each spring. This may be the last spring for this grand old tree. Yvonne and I do love it, but many years ago it was struck by lightning and slowly has deteriorated at its base. Still, it is glorious to see it at least for another spring bloom. The bees revel in its pollen, before the blooms become leaves. It's a beautiful site to behold.
I got to show mentee Kathy Baughman how to install a package of bees on Saturday. Here Kathy is all smiles as she deposits the second package she purchased this weekend into their new home. "I'm a beekeeper!" she exclaimed. The bees seemed pretty happy to get in proper confines, too, and out of those shipping containers.
This weekend also was time to clean up a mess and relocate a nucleus hive that's become full size. My 2014 White Dot Queen keeps rocking it, and the whole colony which I split into a single frame of bees last year has become 8 deep frames and 6 shallow frames of bees. Here is a gorgeous new frame they've drawn in the last two weeks, and the nurse bees are capping off the fresh brood. From here adult female worker bees will emerge in 11 days or so. My switch back to foundation has proved fruitful, as this and other colonies are exploding with worker bees, yielding stronger colonies.
A view of the hive's bottom chamber. Tons of bees on all frames. You can see the frame against the middle divider was a rehab'ed frame, where I used cable ties and hair clamps to hold broken pieces of comb in place. The bees attached the pieces to new comb and completely redrew the frame. I removed the cable ties so that they wouldn't get in the way of frames above it any longer.
With bees flying in confusion everywhere, I finally gave my oldest and grandest queen and colony full-size appropriate digs. In a week I'll be adding an additional honey super atop. This is a production colony that I expect will yield lots of fresh honey this spring. I got my first taste of 2016 as I cut gobs and gobs of virgin brace comb off the empty frame feeder (see my previous post) and hive wall. Trust me, this spring's flavor is spectacular! I saw the grand old queen in all her glory and put her safely in her new home. This group got quite a few more frames to draw out, but given how heavy the spring nectar flow is and how fast they're drawing frames, it won't be long. And, as you can see, I've got to build more tops from my growing apiary. Election signs work wonders in a pinch. Thank you, District 2!
With bees flying everywhere confused as I transferred frames and shook bees into their new location, fanners took position on the "front porch" (they are Southern bees, after all), exposing their Nasinov gland at the tip of their abdomen and fanning the signal to all the bees in the air and those left behind in the empty old hive location, the signal saying "Home is H-E-R-E, not there, but H-E-R-E!"
After all that, I inspected a queen cell split attempt. The first one I looked at this weekend had no new queen. But the last one, just a measly single frame of bees? Yep, IT TOOK. Here she is, waddling about, laying eggs fast and furious on a seriously wonky cross-combed frame. I removed a chamber division in my queen castle and added 4 new waxed Plasticell frames so this start can get to it. I'll soon combine the bees in the other chamber with no queen with this one. So this makes three new spring queens so far.
Time to check another, a monstrous nuc that started last spring from two frames from which I tried to make several new queens and colonies. Well two had been successful, and here is the third. It was so easy to spot this queen, so large in her fat amber on this dark frame of gray bees. I didn't see any eggs as the sun was going down and my eyes were straining to keep up. At least they were spotting the new queens well!
Here she is, having just deposited an egg in a cell.
My eyes were failing me last night, but this shot shows this new queen is laying straight-away. If you look close you'll see the eggs, some of which have already hatched into larvae and have laid down at the bottom of their cell. So that's 4 new queens made for Spring 2016. There's one more to check on. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that there's a 5th one to be found soon. Honey being made, a grand old queen laying like crazy and lots of new queens online and in production, this season is really shaping up!
My first open bee yard for my 2016 Mecklenburg County Bee School mentees was on a balmy 66-degree Sunday. No sooner than after a single puff of smoke, while showing them how to approach a hive, BANG-POW!, I was handed my first sting of the year. It was perfect timing, as the bees showed EVERYONE who's really in charge and that they just tolerate a mindful beekeeper but always reserve the right to put them in their place when they see fit. I used it to show my mentees how to scrape a stinger out with a hive tool, and we all laughed it off to a great start. Here I show the group how to handle my frames, turning the foundationless frames on a vertical axis to inspect so that the stress is handled by the comb attached to the top bar.
All told we spent 3 hours inspecting 6 colonies. Of the 6, one is a sure goner. We saw the queen, but she will soon be dispatched and the colony combined with another one of the nucs. She's just not laying and the numbers are dwindling. However, the remaining 5 are not only hanging in there, they are actually INCREASING their numbers. I showed the group how to inspect, what we're looking for, and how to feed. We also started with a spring jump-start: I fed 1:1 sugar syrup to each colony, except for the one that will be combined. Frame feeders makes this possible, and some insulation panels on the brood boxes don't hurt, either (let alone 60-degree days).
Fresh out of the gate the mentees began spotting the queens as we inspected. Can you find her? She's in there, but hiding underneath some bees. This nuc queen was one of the 5 rock stars I'm blessed with this year. Four of those 5 queens were mated last year, and one is a two-year-old girl who shows no sign of slowing down. As for finding this queen, compare abdomen colors and length and you'll find her.
Mentee Chris Odom holds his first frame of bees ever. Each of the mentees got to hold a frame of bees and work the smoker a bit. Each is in their second week of bee school. No time like the present. It was a super fun Sunday for the entire group!
Chris' mom Mary Jo surprised everyone with how natural she was handling and being around the bees. Way to go, Mary Jo! She will make a great beekeeper. "We're farm folk," Chris explained. I sure could tell! As we got into the hives we saw lots of pollen coming into one nuc in shades of bright orange and greenish white. Some of the pollen patties I'd put on a week prior also were being worked. Bees need their protein as well as their carbs to feed their young. Pollen patties help on rainy and cold days when foraging isn't an option. Seeing these nucs build make me more than ever a believer in the power of protein.
We reviewed core bee school concepts like bee space and how many frames go in a standard Langstroth brood chamber. Then I pointed out what happens when you violate those concepts, as I did here, and show the group plenty of burr comb and cross combs that I'll have to take care of in the coming days. But I do love to experiment, and as such I have to deal with the consequences good and bad. So far all of my nucs are in 4-frame double-hives that share a middle wall, or a 9-frame deep + a shallow, and 5 of 6 nucs are increasing. In two colonies we saw the first drones of the season, just 1 or 2 but they were there, along with new wax being made. Yep, swarm season (and spring increase) won't be far off! All in all a very positive outcome for my experimentation in over-wintering 2015-16.
Mentee Kathy Baughman is all smiles as she cooly handles her first frame of bees this year. Kathy also sweetened up the mentor with her most excellent homemade whole wheat chocolate chip cookies. Hey, even a mentor needs his protein (and the mentor's wife)! Kathy also gave the mentor a great idea of which colony to combine the struggling nuc with. Mentors learn as much from their mentees, is what I'm finding out. Another successful experiment underway! Way to go, Mecklenburg County 2016 Bee School!!
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Tom Davidson is the owner and beekeeper at T's Bees.
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