Mimosa trees are in full bloom in Carolina, signaling the arrival of summer along with strong, heady honey and temps in the 90s.
In the mountains wild blackberries can be found everywhere, ripening up from roadside brambles. This was taken in Boomer, NC.
The advent of summer also signals diminishing food sources. I take heart when I see empty fields on city lots allowed to flower with natural weeds. This was a lot near a Target and Lowe's shopping center.
Beautiful, ain't it, these city weeds and grasses?
I took a peek into this hive and noticed a bad beekeeper error that the bees had made right: I left two empty slots in the top chamber above. So the bees attached beautiful combs to the underside of the lid and began filling it with summer honey. Unfortunately, my 5-minute peek into this hive became a bit longer of an adventure.
This fresh comb was full of early summer honey, and a little drone brood. I removed the brood comb from the honey comb, and did a crush and strain on the two combs of honey and nectar. It wasn't fully ready to harvest, about 65% done between the two combs. But even though it's a little runny, I realized I had a few extra pounds of delicious runny honey I could gobble up in the next month or two, and share some with honey-loving friends as well. It's flavor is stronger and color darker than the honey I harvested this spring. I find that dark honey is great in coffee, not so great in tea, while spring honey is what I prefer in my tea but not in my coffee. I would never sell this but boy does it taste delicious. Nothing wrong with it, just won't keep for very long on the shelf like fully cured honey will, whose moisture content has been reduced to 18.6% or less.
Proof that I finally made right the situation I caused in the first place. I was out of foundation for the time being so I made a starter strip out of the wedge for this frame and put it in place. Now it'll be removable for future inspections. Live and learn.
They also propolized the stuffing out of the inner cover (and you can see where they attached the combs in line, cool huh?). For the life of me I can't figure out which side goes down on these plastic inner covers. This was the flat side. Prying them off the boxes are a MAJOR pain. Why am I using inner covers anyway?! I ditched this and simply put my homemade insulated cover made from political signs and polystyrene insulation on top. No more propolis messes to contend with when removing the lids.
I have a low tolerance for suspicious frames and I had a few from failed queen starts I needed to get out of commission. Anything that looks spotty and doesn't smell quite right gets pulled out of the mix and melted down ASAP.
The brood, cocoons and other debris are all strained out (yuck).
Wax and propolis is floating atop the water. I had an idea!
I added more boiling water in to raise the level of water + wax + propolis and then re-strained the liquid. My bees spend 2 to 3 weeks ignoring commercially waxed Plasticell frames. They smell WEIRD! But if you put their own bit of waxy goodness on top, the bees jump all over the foundation and waste no time drawing it out.
I only had a few combs I'd melted down. Instead of waiting to harvest the wax and then remelt it later, why not coat the foundations now? Propolis and some dirt mixes in with the wax while the water drips off the frame. Less wax is used to re-coat the frames. Knock off the excess, flip over and repeat on the other side. Would this work? Only one way to find out. I got an additional 6 or 7 deep frames coated.
When the wax was used up and nothing but water was left hardly anything extra coated the frames except some propolis and little bits of extra wax. Still the sheets smelled MUCH BETTER than when I got them originally, and the commercial wax was still afixed to the Plasticell.
I was delighted to find honey bees all over the sheets an hour after I left them out to dry. They loved it!! Success, and now I know I can save time in harvesting wax and coating more Plasticell at the same time.
I also harvested the Duragilt plastic sheet from those old comb foundations and they were automatically re-waxed as I melted the old wax off. I strained everything out then dunked them back in the wax water. Everyone says that you can't re-use the sheets. Well, I aim to find out. This could be more trouble than its worth, but I love to experiment.
Another sign of summer is honey bees bearding on their hive fronts. When you see this it means several things: you have a GREAT queen making lots of bees, they need more space and they need improved ventilation. I added a shallow super above for them to draw (it was un-extra-waxed Plasticell, so they ignored it for a few weeks but have begun to draw it out), along with an extra ventilation shim. Staying cool on the front porch and in the shade is the name of the game in summertime here in beautiful Carolina.
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!
Tom Davidson is the owner and beekeeper at T's Bees.
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