It was time to do a little maintenance and take a quick peek on my biggest hive that's put up the most honey, the 2014 swarm hive I've fallen in love with. Still haven't made nucs off this one, yet. Sure hope I get a chance to before she swarms out, dies or is superceded. Well, it was time to see how many more frames they'd drawn out in the additional super I put on (I checker-boarded frames, drawn versus undrawn), and put a queen excluder on so that over the next month she wouldn't be laying in the honey chambers, everything can hatch out and they can back-fill those combs with whatever honey is left to come in. Always good to have a plan.
On my initial "it won't take but just 15 or 20 minutes, honey" visit, I found an indicator that things wouldn't go as planned (read, this will take MUCH longer than 15 minutes).
Well, they hadn't touched any more of the undrawn frames in the supers. And, then there was a bit of a surprise when I lifted out my first brood frame on this visit.
But what's one surprise if you don't get at least another? So, what the ... SWARM CELLS??! But I just saw supercedure cells on the previous frame?! I was instantly confused. Nothing quite like feeling stupid in the bee yard. Was that a veil I was wearing or the proverbial dunce cap?
Annnnnnnd, yet another frame with a queen cell on it. So 3 frames with queen cells (so far). Goooooood, night in the mornin'!
Had I noticed a reduction in bee traffic at the front door? Yes! Was the queen in there? Didn't see her. But I did see a few eggs, some larvae, a nice tight brood pattern, so she HAD been in there. I was convinced they were superceding the old queen. But after sleeping on it a night, I realized I'd seen a beautiful frame of SWARM CELLS. (I checked the forums at beesource.com and the concensus was that the NUMBER of queen cells, not just their position on the frames, indicates the hive had swarmed out.)
So I went back and did what I could to make the most of out the situation the day after. Still, I hadn't gone into the deep chamber. Yep, it was time to take the hive apart and go all the way down and complete the inspection. On my way down I checked progress of the queen cells (none had hatched yet), and put the one frame and a couple of shallow brood frames aside. Then into the deep chamber I went. One honey comb was dry. More evidence of swarming, I think (honey removed from the brood chamber). So convinced it was swarm cells I'd seen, I found this.
Good grief, what do I know? Only so much as what the bees teach me. I do know this: often, in the bee yard things go SOMEWHAT different than they say in all the text books. Here, I thought you got either one kind of cell or another. Nope, I got both. But you have to take in EVERYTHING to get the whole story. I realize now that at least I wouldn't have to split the hive up after taking off the honey supers. I'd planned on breaking up this hive into attempted nuc's to a) break the brood cycle so that b) Varroa destructor mites would perish and c) I'd end up with more, younger laying queens in the process. But the bees always teach me that THEY are in charge of their schedule, not me. Fortunately I had time to adapt. AND, I did end up making an attempt at making increase off this once booming hive, which I hope turns out to be two wonderfully successful nucleus colonies, each with their own newly mated 2015 queen. SUCCESS!
Then it was time to check in my one nuc where I believed I had an accepted, newly mated laying queen in my make-shift mating nuc setup with feed bag inner covers.
So this was a beautiful sight. It does look spotty, but there was only a frame and a half worth of bees in this chamber just 4 weeks ago, with a queen cell I'd given it. Now we DO have evidence of success, two weeks into egg laying for what I'm naming Q15-A (Queen 2015 A). And all available cells were filled with eggs or brood.
And then a beautiful sight to behold:
So, my "I'll only be 15-20 minutes, honey" visit on a Sunday turned into yet more work, and more like a couple of hours over two days when all was said and done. Even though my biggest hive has most likely swarmed out, I still have honey to harvest from it (SUCCESS!), a break in the brood cycle to halt Varroa mite reproduction which means healthier bees going into winter (SUCCESS!), and now 2 more new queens under way (SUCCESS!). Catching the cells before the hatch gave me time to set the stage for another "top nuc". I put a couple of brood frames alongside the frame with the swarm cells on it to draw up enough nurse bees to form a nucleus colony on top. There were still a good number of bees in this hive. I love that I get a chance to make two hives out of the 2014 swarm queen's fabulous genetics. Sweet, gentle bees that put up lots of honey, survive harsh winters, don't ask for too much and always have something to teach this backyard beekeeper.
Wow, have I had lots of successes ... just to see some of them wiped away recently by screw-ups, or beekeeper error. I take the blame when pests take over, and yet again it's happened. But first, to a success. Two weeks ago, on hive Bullwinkle, I found this, one of two virgin frames of capped honey. This is comb honey waiting to be harvested. Hopefully it'll be there when harvest time comes this Saturday. I'd put in several fresh frames with starter strips of foundation to see if my bees would draw it out faster than just using the top wedge alone. Sure enough, they drew out several empties into 3/4-full frames in just 3 days. Amazing.
In fact, every single frame inside Hive Bullwinkle was chock full of nectar and honey. Some were frames of pollen and bee bread, which is packed pollen mixed with honey and nectar. Uh-oh, this hive is queenless. Boggling my mind, the bees, with no young ones to take care of, turned all their attention to making honey. Next year I'm going to temporarily make some booming hives queenless and broodless to get maximum honey production. This will only be for a short period of time. I may insert a single frame of brood every few days to keep laying workers from developing. Surprisingly, Bullwinkle had no laying workers! I had to do something. It looked like combining the hive was my next step. But first, it was time to upgrade Bullwinkle to a deep hive body, with a super on top. While I was at it, I started the installation of a single, larger hive stand (one of 2) to give me more elbow room to work the hives and also get more hives in the same amount of space in my apiary. Bullwinkle's the one on the left.
By the way, my split off of Boris, which is hive Rocky (far right), was doing great. It loved my homemade screened bottom board. I can do this!
Here is my prep supplies for upgrading Bullwinkle. I lost my handy hive tool with a frame lifter built into it. I'm using an old-school one. But my big brother also gave me a super cool frame lifter, and I LOVE it. It does a much better job than the hive tool. I like the old hive tool better. Also, I now go into every visit with a turkey feather (or brush, but the feathers are gentler on the bees) and a bread knife to correct any cross-combing I find. I also put the homemade tupperware beetle trap on Bullwinkle, too.
The day before this inspection, which was two weeks ago, I was cleaning equipment left behind when yet another hive, one of my best that'd survived winter, went silent. This was a big mystery to me. No small hive beetles. Food in the frames. No bees. No bodies. No wax moths. And then out of the corner of my eye, on some natural burr comb they'd built off the lid on the hive, I saw her, A QUEEN! I quickly caught her.
I wasn't planning on installing a queen that Sunday night, just doing some cleanup before dinner. Suddenly I was installing a queen! I put some drops of sugar syrup on the queen catcher bars for her to eat, which she appreciated. Then, once in the hive I put the cage on the top bars. It didn't take long for her to attract attention. She was mobbed. I was definitely going to leave her in there for a few days so they'd accept her. Putting in a fresh queen will result, most likely, in her being "balled" by a mass of bees, in which she's killed by their overheating her. Sometimes bees make knee-jerk reactions, too, and need a little help calming down. Just like me. The next day, there were still a ton of bees around her, so I thought caution was best.
So I waited 2 more days, knowing that if they kept her alive by feeding her, they'd accepted her as their new royal majesty. Apparently 3 days works the charm. Note to self on future introductions.
Unfortunately, I decided to release her and her workers onto the top bars of an empty hive box with frames and comb, and then put the Bullwinkle box with frames on top of that. Buuuuut, I screwed up, while trying to video the affair. I flicked the queen catcher open, then flicked again, and she flew away. WHAT was I thinking?? My inexperience got the better of me. DOH, what a hard way to learn! Bullwinkle will just have to keep packing in the pollen and honey for the time being.
But not everything had screwed up. Hive Rocky had also drawn out frames quickly. I used starter strips on some, and not others. I was delighted. Yes, if all goes well, there will be honey to harvest, possibly cut-comb honey at that! It's old-school and hard to find. I love virgin comb so much that I want to share the joy of cut comb honey!
And yet another one. What beauty. This split, Hive Rocky, is amazing me. At least with all my screw ups this spring, I've got one big success ... and maybe a few others, as well. :-)
This is what it's like seeing virgin comb when I go into a hive (this one was Bullwinkle). Pretty awesome.
So enough lolly-gagging, I had to get to business, even after screwing up the queen release. I had to get Bullwinkle into its new digs. Working with no gloves (I don't use 'em, and I'd loaned mine out anyways), I transferred the frames into the 10-frame deep.
Things were going well. I didn't get stung when I emptied out the remains of the nuc box onto the deep hive body below. This means, shaking the box like crazy and bapping it with your hands. I know, high-tech.
After the bottom box was emptied, I had to empty out the slatted rack and then screened bottom board. There were only a few bees remaining. But one of them decided to pop me on the finger. Again it was my middle finger. That's the second time I've been given the bird by my hives in the past year.
I also cut off some beautiful extra comb off the bottom of one of the frames. Always bring your bread knife. They'd even begin capping honey on this little piece!
This made an excellent starter piece to use later. I use a hair clamp to hold it onto a frame, and hold the hair clamp on by way of zip ties. I got this off of YouTube, thanks to OutOfABlueSky (what a handle). After the frame is drawn out, I'll cut out the hair clamp and remove the ties and use the clamp again later.
Hive Bullwinkle now was ... well, at least in better digs than before. They were in a standard deep box, and had an extra super to store honey in. I'd made sure they didn't have a queen by bungling her release, but they were in new digs at least. I set up a temporary stand in front of the old shorter stand. With dinner getting near, I put off installing the larger hive stand for a few more days. And then I'd combine Bullwinkle with my Fort Mill hive, I decided. More on that later. This sure is an excellent way to end your day immediately after work. I just have to contain all my excitement when I go in and not babble incessantly about bees to my wife while trying to eat and watch TV. Man is that hard!
_great trees. We have 14 that I've counted in our neighborhood just by walking Olive, our scruffy border terrier. The tulip poplars bloomed at the very end of March, and were around until the beginning of May. After the tulip poplars were done, all of my beekeeping friends said "there is no nectar," or "it is done." I found that hard to believe. Granted, I was still in my first year of beekeeping. But what I was seeing around me said otherwise. The blackberry plants in our garden were also in bloom the month of April, and crimson clover began in May.
_ In addition to white clover, other honey plants in bloom during May, most of which I saw in my own neighborhood and on my commute to work, were black locust trees, black gum, holly, raspberry and privet. I also began to notice visual queues around me for tell-tale signs of the season. The whole month of April saw the gorgeous magnolia trees adorned with their big, amazing smelling flowers. And this honeybee below right showed a distinct interest on a 6-foot-tall cedar-like shrub that had these interesting blue buds ready to open. If anyone knows what this is, please let me know.
__Summer and Fall honey will have unique flavors of their own. I look forward to tasting them as well, and sharing with my awesome customers. Okay, well, at the end of May and the beginning of June, privet was all over the place here in Charlotte. As were the amazing mimosa trees, all around us. They were everywhere. I snapped shots of this magnificent specimen at the Family Dollar store on my way to work. Now, at the end of June the mimosas are dropping their gorgeous flowers, as are the magnolias. But man, what a show they gave us this spring! But in May began the fabled sourwood bloom. This year one of my neighbor's sourwood trees bloomed in mid-May and is still in full bloom. In the weeks following, I saw sourwoods all over Charlotte, most by the side of the roads and behind gas stations, homes, strip malls, you name it there was sourwood. Right now it's in full swing in our beautiful mountains just an hour and a half north. Sourwood trees, just like the tulip poplar, brings its own unique characteristics and tasting honey. North Carolina is one of the largest sources of sourwood honey. I am hoping for a late summer honey harvest. Speaking of harvests, I had my first harvest ever this Spring.
"We'll see," I said. Using my tangential extractor, I didn't have a SINGLE BLOWOUT. Check that out, Johnny! :-P The frame above is the closest I came to a blowout, which cracked in the middle. This frame still held together. Notice, though, that the honeycomb is attached on all four sides. Three are the minimum for extracting honey, and four is best. Take it nice and slow, and extract from honeycomb that's had a bit of time to mature, a couple of weeks, and you're fine. Just to test this, I put this cracked frame back in the extractor two more times, and went as fast as I could. NOTHING. All was well, and this frame, along with all of my other wet frames, were given back to the bees to hopefully fill with late spring and early summer honey. All in all I harvested a humble but amazingly delicious harvest of 70 pounds on the dot this year. Most of that, about 3/4ths, I got from Boris, which I'd severely split early in the season. Boris still brought it home. Natasha, not so much. But she still had many frames half-drawn and uncapped of spring honey, so I left those in place and will see when I extract for summer if she can catch up. Still, I gave most of my wet frames back to my big producer this year, my original hive, Boris.
Experience is key, especially your own, I've discovered. This was just one of many gorgeous frames of freshly drawn honeycomb my bees had drawn without any foundation whatsoever. Every frame I replaced during splits were foundationless in the brood boxes. And I checkerboarded foundation frames I'd begun last year with foundationless frames this year. The bees went for making their own wax with no help this year, and partially filled out foundation as the last resort. I even found foundation frames from 2011 still not completely drawn in the brood boxes below, while the empty frames I'd put in in early spring were completely full. But since they were so busy making the beeswax, as I didn't have backup combs to give them from years past, their time and ability to store honey was reduced.
The first weekend in June I had my very first harvest. Many first-year beekeepers don't have a harvest at all, and some second-year beeks as well. One of my mentors had had that very experience. I was truly ecstatic at my good fortune and all of my and the bees' hard work! God bless.
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Tom Davidson is the owner and beekeeper at T's Bees.
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