My nucleus colonies, the ones over-wintered from 2015 and my new spring 2016 nucs, continue to amaze me. The beautiful virgin wax they are building on all my foundations is a sight to behold, but even better is the ever-expanding amount of honey, the different colors of pollen mixed down into bee bread, royal jelly and eggs galore. This shot is a wonderful capsule of an amazing spring so far. Just two weeks ago this was only foundation.
Same for this frame. In just two weeks, this and two other frames of Duragilt foundation has been drawn out beautifully, laid top to bottom with worker eggs and honey around the edges. You can't ask for much more than this. I was amazed at this new queen's production. And it's something I must manage (and will, thanks to Hive Tracks).
This was one of my production colonies which had threatened to swarm. Instead I artificially swarmed it's queen and 3 frames of workers and food. I kept their door screened closed for 3 days to prevent the workers from drifting back to their original stand. After 3 days, they were READY to get out. I loved seeing them flood the open air at once as soon as I removed the screen, and begin re-orienting to their new space.
Quickly they settled down after stretching their wings, as sundown was only a few minutes away. But they seemed thrilled. I certainly was.
My time was very limited thanks to the approach of twilight and a healthy to-do list. This hive I inspected the bottom brood chamber just a few days prior. This was the same nutty hive that keeps building comb on its screened inner cover. (See that solid inner cover in the background? That replaced the screened inner cover!) To be efficient I also did a quick inspection of its top brood chamber by looking at the bottom of the frames. You can tell a lot without pulling a single frame. I cleaned up the brace comb they'd built and looked for swarm cells.
No swarm cells yet, but I did find 2 or 3 queen cups. So they're thinking about it and staying in practice. I knocked these down as I saw them.
This colony is currently queenless (remember that artificial swarm I mentioned earlier?). I expect to find a bunch of capped queen cells made from eggs when I go back into this hive in just a few days from now. But I learned in seasons past that large queenless hives will put up a ton of honey during a nectar flow. So it was time to take advantage. I gave them their first honey super to draw out, using Plasticell medium frames up top.
Speaking of Plasticell, one of my nuc's quickly took to drawing out a beautiful frame on the black plastic core which I bought pre-waxed and added more wax to it (see my previous post on that here). Well, they are LOVING it and drawing out a gorgeous black frame. It is so weird and cool seeing the beautiful fresh white comb being drawn on the re-usable plastic core. They were working both sides of this frame, and the queen can begin laying in it already.
Speaking of, here is the queen in that same nuc. Quite a beauty, another of my young productive queens from this year's bevy of new queens. And hopefully one of many yet to come. Another color of spring I love: queen amber!
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!
There's a lot to be said about natural cell size. Commercial foundation sheets are imprinted with honeycomb cells that are 5.4 millimeters in diameter (some run 5.6). The thinking was that larger bees led to larger honey harvests. It's also a compromise size, still smaller than the drone cells bees naturally draw to raise male bees and to store honey in, but much larger than what they naturally draw to raise worker (female) brood in. Many studies have been done that show bees raised on small cell combs lead to smaller bees that emerge a day faster than your foundation bee, interrupting the Varroa mites' natural reproductive cycle underneath that capped cell. As it turns out the mites need that 9th day to get into the cell before it's capped. Small cell larvae tend to be capped in 8 days and emerge a day sooner than your commercial foundation bees, which are capped on the 9th day, according to Michael Bush and many others who've studied this over many years. Well, I'm a believer.
HOWEVER, it's been 4 seasons now since I started using foundationless frames. I've had some mixed results, it wasn't perfect. Some frames DID have badly stretched combs. Most beekeepers say, "see, this is why you SHOULDN'T use natural cell because it means less workers, more drones and less honey!" I kept the faith, rotated those combs out to the sides to become food frames, eventually melted down most of them, and kept feeding in foundationless frames. I kept brood combs in the center, enlarged combs at the sides, no big deal. But this morning I realized that I've been looking at SMALL CELL on my natural combs all season long so far, even on the end frames. I was scratching my head, "Why?!" until I realized that the positive change occurred once I started running narrow frames in my brood boxes. I plane down the end bars on my frames, which is a royal pain in the ass I won't lie, and fit 11 in a 10-frame box. I switched over to that last season and this season in full force and it has paid off. Once I went to narrow frames? SMALL CELL foundationless combs, all worker combs. What's also wonderful about these comb experiments is that it means the majority of my combs are fresh and new, which are SO EASY for the bees to convert into queen cells if they need or want to (see, natural and fresh is better). And my bees are tiny. And yes, quite healthy. I haven't seen Varroa mites on my bees. Small cell, along with narrow frames, really does work if you let it and keep the faith. I snapped this photo this morning on a deep frame that was 3/4 drawn. Every single cell, every one, was a worker cell. I noticed how tiny they were. WOW, they are small cell. If you count 10 cells across, you'll see that it clocks in right at 4.9 mm. If you count individual cells the number's even smaller, but the cell walls add up which is why I think you count 10 and do the math. I am committed to small cell. Looks like the bees, when left to their own devices, are, too!
Tom Davidson is the owner and beekeeper at T's Bees.
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