This summer has proven to be a bountiful one. The honey flow is still on, though in its waning days. This honey bee drinks from a sunflower that's part of a fallow bed planted with flowers and peas in our garden. After they've had their fill, we'll turn this bed over, top it with black plastic for a couple weeks, and then top with newspaper and fresh soil in prep for fall plantings. Currently the flowers are topping 6 feet in height!
In addition to the sunflowers, this tree is in full bloom here in Charlotte. I have no idea what it's called, and I suspect it's some sort of an invasive species. However, the honey bees enjoy its blossoms. I snapped this shot just outside our favorite Vietnamese restaurant here on the east side.
Honey harvest part one kicked off June. Here you can see that my one honey hive grew taller than myself. My big brother Tim took this shot on honey harvest day, just after I returned the wet frames to the hive for cleanup. On the bottom board is queen excluder, which wonderfully kept the queen been inside this hive, even though it did cast off what apparently was an over-crowding swarm. She's still in there laying away, thanks to the excluder on the bottom board. I also put an excluder on when the flow was in full force and they'd already drawn out a box of comb filled with nectar. I ran out of shallow boxes, and needing more deep drawn comb I eventually bottom supered this hive with a deep. They drew out the Plasticell foundation in a month, and come the first of June it was full of nectar but not honey. So whatever additional honey is in there will come off soon this hot month of July. Shown in this photo, in addition to a happy beekeeper, is the excluder on the bottom board followed by a deep, medium and shallow brood chamber, another queen excluder then the remaining deep of honey. On top of that deep you can see a white vinyl inner cover, then I put an empty super above that, then the supers containing the wet, extracted honey frames. My friend and mentor George taught me the inner cover PLUS an empty super trick. The inner cover and empty super convinces the honey bees to transfer any remaining droplets of honey on those wet frames down to the hive proper below, and discourages them from storing any additional nectar in those wet frames. Therefore you end up with dry, cleaned combs ready for storage and a boost to next years honey harvest.
My mentee this year, Heather Hayes, came over and I lost no time in putting her to work harvesting honey. She discovered the proper way to use an uncapping fork, and how efficient it can be.
My big brother Tim, who got me into bees many years ago as a youngster, also helped with the harvest. This year I made things easier on all of us: I rented our bee club's motorized extractor. WHY in the world I waited seven years to rent the club extractor for just a few dollars, well, I guess it's just because I'm hard-headed and a slow learner. All I know is, I'm never looking back after that wonderful, motorized extraction experience. No more hand-cranking. We also dispensed with the hot knife, and just used a serrated cold knife. It worked AMAZINGLY, and not a touch of heat was applied to my honey as it was released. I think this will yield an even more amazingly delicious harvest. When I sell raw wildflower honey, I want it pure, clean and untouched by heat. We also tried used a roller device. I called it the pokey roller. It was easy to open the cells, but we soon found out that the frames did NOT extract easily. It took MUCH longer to spin the honey out of the pokey roller frames, so we switched back to the cold knife and uncappings fork, and soon we were off to the extraction races.
A little trick I learned last year and repeated this year: once the harvest was complete, I crushed by hand all of the honey cappings to speed up the draining process. In the summer heat, it only took a couple days for all of the honey to drip out of the crushed cappings wax.
This year my focus has been on producing and selling nucleus colonies. Brood patterns are still super tight, and I haven't even begun to treat yet. They remain tight and solid on my nucs with new queens that came online in May and June. But it is only a matter of time, so soon all of my hives will be treated with natural Thymol gel to help rid them of Varroa Destructor mites, which explode in the summer months. Fortunatelly I've surpassed my initial forecast and have been blessed. I still AM selling nuc's, so if you're interested make sure you reserve yours today. Soon I will be sold out and turning my focus to down-sizing for fall and winter in prep for next spring. A beekeeper's life is always spent 4 to 6 months in advance ... at least for the smart ones. I wasn't so smart at the beginning of this year, and spent March, April and May chasing bees all over my backyard. But what fun lessons I learned while capturing those swarms. Still, more lessons learned.
Another round of new queens have successfully come online. This one ended up going to my friend and mentee Chris, who found himself with a hot, pissy hive on his hands. I visited him to kick off July, dispatching the queen and selling him this beauty. I managed to do the morning deed with only one sting in the process. Still I commended Chris for doing what is required of all good beekeepers: maintaining sweet and gentle honey bees, and not allowing defensive genetics to rule the apiary.
I've been enjoying the sweet amazing aromas of magnolias this summer. Here is a beautiful blossom in the morning sun as dew evaporates off its gorgeous white petals.
We've been blessed by summer rains this year. Not too much and from what I can tell not too little, but always in the guise of a storm. Tiger lilies are even more beautiful and breathtaking after summer showers, welcoming the promise of a new day in the sun.
Each spring here in Carolina is something to behold. I found myself doing some things better this year, and repeating some past mistakes, namely getting caught up in the rush of things and forgetting to take some time to literally smell the roses (or dogwoods, as the case may be). Life can be a wondrous thing to behold. But if you're too busy, you'll miss it. And with a new spring and lots of new bees, that's something that can happen all too easily. Fortunately I've got a major hand up with so many new colonies and queens this year, and that is Hive Tracks software. I thought I'd raised (so far) 4 queens and had a potential 5th one. Nope, I've got 6 new queens raised so far this year, and yes I did spot her this weekend! Thrilling, exciting and humbling all at the same time.
Do you see her? She's on this frame. This gives you an idea of what it's like as a beekeeper trying to spot a queen. But, with years of experience, your eyes actually do adjust (the trick is to not actively look with your eyeballs for that one bee, but to take in the entire frame and allow your eyes to spot the one bee that is larger than all others). Mentee Chris Odom snapped this and a few other photos for me. We were trying to button up after a couple of hours in the hives, but I realized I needed to check this hive which should have a new queen online now. And she's right there there, happy as can be, laying away. Have you spotted her yet? Hint: She's almost at the direct center part of the frame (look for her shiny black thorax).
Well how about now? Just to the right and off-center a bit you'll see her dark, long caramel amber body with just one stripe at the tip, unlike all the other bees here (she stuck her head in a cell when this was taken). Another new queen success! So wait, is that 4? 5? 6? Thanks to Hive Tracks and vigorously labeling, I confirmed that she is a 6th new queen for 2016. Hopefully there will be more. Sunday was to be a simple endeavor: a few inspections and give Chris his practical field exam, the last step in becoming a certified North Carolina beekeeper. Well, the bees had other plans! Simple quickly turned to complex.
My now-largest hive, which started out as an over-wintered nucleus colony or nuc, was putting up honey and drawing combs on its first new honey super of the season. I'd left this one alone, tending to all the other nucs, and had given it a honey super last week. In the past 3 weeks, this hive decided it was running out of space and was preparing to swarm. Fortunately, we caught it in the nick of time. Here you can see swarm cells. "What is the difference between a queen cup and a queen cell?" I asked Chris. A cell has a larvae in it. A cup is empty. This hive had lots of cups it was building on the combs. Most were empty, until we found these two cells.
So to prevent a swarm and save the bees and honey crop, Chris and I removed the queen and a deep frame of bees and capped brood in an artificial swarm into a new location. I'll leave them screened in for 3 days to prevent the bees from leaving the queen and returning to its old hive location. We then took this shallow frame with two capped queen cells on it and added it to a queenless group in the queen castle that I'd intended to combine with an adjacent single-frame nuc that was queen-right. Hopefully there wasn't too much fighting between those queenless bees and this group preparing these swarm cells, but regardless I wanted to make use of what the good Lord hath provided.
Meanwhile, the old hive received some blank frames to draw out, in addition to the honey super it was working on. And now without a queen and queen cells removed, it won't swarm just yet. Now, it will raise more queen cells from eggs on its many frames. So in another week I'll check back to see if I can make two or three more starts off this group. So this one hive will have become 4 or 5 if all works out well!
It's a juggling act, because if I take too many bees away they won't be strong enough to put up honey. Had I not acted I would've lost my queen and 65% of the hive and some of its honey stores in the near future. So that one large hive would have become just one small hive with no honey and only queen cells. Hopefully I'm playing my cards right. So far the results are saying "yes".
In just 7 days this group also had drawn 5 of 10 of Plasticell medium foundations into combs. Putting that additional wax coating on Plasticell seemed to really work. Chris and I rotated the center frames they were drawing to the outside edges and the untouched end frames to the center to help them fully draw out this chamber.
Here is a deep Plasticell frame on my newest queen's colony. This cluster of bees was busy drawing out this new frame. You can see excess wax on this frame, too. When finished, with the black plastic core it should be so easy to spot eggs!
I eventually realized that I was talking out loud to myself, even though Chris was there, just trying to keep everything straight. We chuckled about it. My neighbors must think I'm a complete loon, someone who messes with bees and constantly talks out loud to himself. But it does help to verbally repeat out loud what it is you are trying to do, what it is you need to do, and what it is you have done step by step to make it all happen. And FORTUNATELY there is now Hive Tracks, to keep you better organized and on track as it all evolves.
Previously in the week I came home to this pitiful sight: homeless bees. I moved this colony, my 2014 White Dot Queen, last week to a larger spot just a couple feet away. But foragers coming home found an empty chamber. They positioned in little clumps to withstand the weather and were very sluggish. I realized they hadn't been able to offload their nectar and pollen stores because all the bees and combs had been removed. So using a feather I gently brushed these bees into a pan and dumped them back into their colony in its new location. They seemed quite relieved! It had only been a couple days. And this now empty location became the spot for my latest artificial swarm!
It was truly a pitiful sight. So I resolved to not let this happen again when I moved a colony. The bees lined up in little V formations to withstand the elements, consigned to their fate. Fortunately they were saved.
Truly this spring is glorious. Seeing its beauty makes me realize how much I've missed over the years when I was just to busy. Now I take at least one bee-free weekday and weekend day off each week. We can all get too crazy-busy and lose sight of it all.
Each new day brings new adventures, and new chances to take in everything it has to offer. Make sure you do.
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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