With the sun's rays descending into golden amber hues, the bees get a reprieve from the dearth of summer. I fed throughout August and September, while treating for Varroa with thymol. The honeybees have come out of summer doing well and looking forward to the beautiful blooms of autumn. This is my favorite season, one that offers a blast of beauty from roadside "weeds" as well as a chance for the honeybees to add to their food stores in hopes of surviving winter.
Pollen baskets are filled to the brim with golden and orange pollen coming in.
This "little" nuc has really done well. It's always wanted to beard, even when it was cool outside. So I gifted it a screened bottom board after taking this shot. Still, they continue to beard. Some bees just enjoy it, I suppose. I took up their cue and started relaxing more and just enjoying the honeybees a bit more this autumn.
I took some time off from feeding, about 6 weeks. The apiary has that wonderful sweet and sour smell of goldenrod and aster nectar. I stand in the middle of the hives and just breathe. Another one of my favorite things. I also added back in frame feeders and began feeding heavy syrup to help bump up their weights. I'll feed for another month or so. I learned a great trick from "First Lessons in Beekeeping" by Keith Delaplane, and it works great: staple a small block of wood in the middle of the feeders to keep them from bowing out. Works like a charm! Just had to cut the screens down to allow for the wood block. I also have long strips of corrugated plastic floating in the feeders to act as life rafts for any bees that get stuck in the drink.
While spending time not mowing the grass and just taking it easy, I marvel at the honeybees taking advantage of every possible bloom that autumn offers, such as this yellow clover just a few yards away from the apiary.
Everyone is ready for spring adventures, including my trusty bee yard companion, Olive who wonders, "Will daddy let me come out to play while he does bee stuff?" Yes, yes he did. Good daddy, good!
The weekend mornings started nice and brisk. After snapping this photo, I put my weather sensor on a hive body and in 15 minutes it was 83 degrees! My wife Yvonne was convinced that the bees inside the hive boxes influenced the reading. So I moved the sensor.
I put it on a non-reflective empty nuc box just in front of the hives to get an accurate non hive-influenced reading. I couldn't seem to move my finger out of the way, either.
And Y was right, sort of ... the bee boxes do give off heat. But since bees heat only the cluster and not the interior of the hive I suspect the heat is reflected from the light yellow paint on the hives onto the sensor plate. No matter, this shows what you can do even when it's in the 30's in the shade here in the Piedmont of North Carolina. With hives in a sunny spot, it's a different ballgame altogether. Time to get to work.
The finishing touches were put on my queen castle by adding a lip underneath all four sides of each compartment's lid. This allows for bee space on the top bars, so bees can patrol them if they want or need to and munch on a pollen patty if they want. It also made for a sturdier compartment lid all around.
Once we got in the hives Sunday, we discovered all were beginning to BOOM! Tight brood patterns and lots of drones are being made. Above you can see a fabulous frame from my first over-wintered nucleus colony, or "nuc", from last year. It was wings to legs bees, bees, BEES top to bottom. This lovely tight brood pattern greeted me and my mentees on our first inspection on Sunday. On the right of this frame there is a lot of drone brood as well. So this nuc will need to be convinced to not swarm out on me in the very near future. This same nuc was suffering from a high mite-load last fall, until I gave it and the hives three rounds of oxalic acid vapor (OAV). It has rebounded wonderfully. I am now a believer in OAV, right action and strategic feeding inside the hive during winter.
We saw this beauty, my two-year-old white dot queen, laying away and growing her nuc. She was put in a box and ignored all summer long, her and a little frame of bees. Now they're almost ready to move into larger quarters, or to make up more splits! I want more of her genetics. Of the 4 queen-right colonies currently in the yard, she's given me three. I hope to make up another 4 from her this year.
Here is a beautiful queen cell, just capped. Last week my mentees and I took my largest hive, which descended from a swarm I collected in 2014, and removed its queen and a contingent to a nuc box. This week we found 8 queen cells on the queenless hive, most had just been capped. One queen cell (QC) was destroyed when we separated the boxes and another slightly damaged. We left at least two beautiful QC's behind on the parent hive. There could've been more, but we verified two were left on adjacent frames. Mentee Chris Odom and I then moved a frame of food (pollen and nectar) and a queen cell frame into a compartment of the queen castle, and repeated the procedure into the adjoining compartment. I then shook extra bees from 4 or 5 frames into the compartments from the parent hive. In the course of all this, the mentor (me) dropped a frame to my utter shame. But, I took a deep breath, laughed about it, and slowly finished the job. No stings were gathered in this operation, though I certainly deserved at least two or three! These bees are so calm and gentle, even a week after being made queenless and a clumsy beekeeper, yet another reason to promote these wonderful genetics!
I made sure to outfit each entrance for each of the queen castle's 4 compartments with a bit of screen to prevent robbing. Each entrance also got a unique dot and/or dash configuration. These unique marks will help the queens orient and find their way back home once they start flying and mating.
Last week I gave the 2015 Q-D nuc a piece of broken comb. I rubber banded and jute-strung it into place. The nuc is doing wonderful, and the beautiful queen was spotted and laying. The girls have almost chewed through one of the jute strings, and maneuvered the comb down on the right and fastened it to the bottom, and re-attached the top left to the top. In a couple of days I should probably remove at least that jute to give them a break. But for now we put it back. They don't seem to mind it one bit. Bees are industrious and really amazing. They take a little something and turn it into a lot of something great. I try to do the same, make the most out of everything.
Here Chris inspects a beautiful frame of tight capped brood and honey from my white dot queen. We went through all 6 colonies and made 2 more, Lord willin'. Not bad for a beautiful late February Sunday afternoon.
Mentee Mary Fabian got into the bees, too, and was happy to dispense more 1:1 syrup and pollen patties. The apiary is beginning to boom. Fingers and toes are crossed the new splits we made up will yield strong new colonies, more new healthy, happy honey bees in 2016. Time will tell. Soon it will be time to make up more splits for this spring. Happy flying, girls!
October mornings in the apiary ... what could be better? Olive and our other dog Honey (not pictured) have been my helpers, lately. My only problem was that when it was time to wrap up, Olive just stayed in the apiary, looked back, gave me a happy pant and kept right on protecting the sunny apiary. She was the bees' knees, for sure!
So my divided brood chamber and split nucs are working fine for this double-nuc. My only issue with it is that one nuc is stronger than the other. The chamber on the right is now in two deep levels. I gifted the left chamber some drawn, filled shallow combs. Now the levels are at different heights, so each section requires its own lid, which I didn't have ... until this morning. At the Mecklenburg County Beekeepers' meeting, my friend Andrew gave me a great idea: just use the corrugated plastic. I have lots of political signs that I pick up after each election cycle. In just a couple of minutes with a utility blade, voila I had two custom-size make-shift outer covers. I'll upgrade this further but for now it works! (Note: I added an additional strip of the plastic under one end of each lid to allow ventilation.)
I needed to get a frame feeder in this hive. It's a deep and a half. The shallow had a nice cluster of bees in it, as did the bottom chamber. The cluster is more noticeable now that the nights are getting colder. It's already plunged once into the 30s. Still, I was quite happy to see this small colony is growing and growing. The blue marks on the frames tell me all this comb was built this year (I put each year's queen colors on the end bars for dating).
I added a half gallon of 2:1 sugar syrup with Honey B Healthy added to it. The corrugated plastic strip I put in each frame feeder this year is working great! I checked the other feeders and noticed two things: 1) I could easily tell where the syrup levels were in the frame feeder by whether or not I could see the strip, and 2) no drowned bees, as the corrugated plastic strips make for excellent floating life rafts if the bees slip into the drink and need to make it to screen on the sides and climb to safety. So this colony got its feeder, only one more to go. I've found that adding between 1/2 and 3/4 gallon to the feeders at a time is plenty without the sides bowing out too much.
This is the little nuc that could. I put my one remaining white dot queen from 2014 in this for safe keeping on one frame of bees and one food frame. I never fed this colony during the summer dearth nor during the fall nectar flow. Not only is this nuc surviving, it's thriving.
These crazy little bees are drawing out foundation on the fall flow. I couldn't believe my eyes. To thank them, I gifted them a frame feeder with a 1/2 gallon of 2:1 syrup and Honey B Healthy and a second level with 4 drawn combs, two of which contained loads of pollen and nectar. When checked this morning they were buzzing along quite happily in the autumn sun. I LOVE this queen and her prodginy. I recently fortified this nuc further to ensure it survives the winter (more on that in an upcoming post), as I want to make more queens out of this wonderful, resilient, calm and methodical queen. Long live the white dot 2014 queen!
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Tom Davidson is the owner and beekeeper at T's Bees.
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