It snowed here on January 22. This gave my mind an "atta boy!" for my installing insulation panels on the brood chambers of my tiny nucs (well that AND seeing evidence of most of the colonies increasing). On this date I had 6 colonies, all nucs of various sizes and one on the verge of being called a full colony. Those two little packages from 2014 became 6. Not bad.
This is the one that's on the verge. A nice cluster down below, and an equally large one in the shallow chamber above. So far running 9 frames isn't hindering the bees at all this season, and it's greatly improved my ease and comfort of working a hive. Yes, I'm a 9-framer and feeder-frame kind of beekeeper. These girls have been working the pollen patties I'd given them. This week I'm trying a new "bee bread" recipe slightly modified but taken from Ralph Jones III, whose videos I greatly admire and recommend. My recipe uses soy flour, and as such it took about 25 ounces of flour to his recipe (which I cut in half). Here's my modified bee bread recipe:
I was also delighted to find ALL frame feeders completely empty and dry. I hadn't found all of them empty before when I was feeding 2:1 heavy syrup, but after putting in 1:1 last week for the first time to jump start the nucs into an early spring and get a wing up on the season, all feeders were bone dry. I ended up putting all 5 gallons of syrup in on Super Bowl Sunday 2016, when the Carolina Panthers made their second appearance in the grand finale of football. Yes, I'm a H-U-G-E Panthers AND Carolina fan, and proud of it. Way to go, Panthers, for a great season!! And way to go, T's Bees for multiplying and increasing over winter. Well, 5 colonies at least. One colony that was still queen-right was dwindling. When I inspected the week prior with my bee school mentees I discovered that the queen was no longer laying and the population in steep decline. Time for "right action" and do what's best for most of the bees.
Good-bye, 2015 queen I raised. I was surprised that this colony failed given how well it was doing (or so I thought) in early fall. However, I noticed a couple of mistakes I'd made to learn from: I had a mix of frames, deeps and shallows and kept them and the bees in a single deep box; and the hive was situated immediately behind another, which blocked a good portion of the morning sun from it (I always found the bees clustered against the one corner getting sun). Intro the drink she went. I keep my dispatched queens in a jar of alcohol, which I swab on bait hives to help catch future swarms, so nothing's wasted.
I used the newspaper combine method to unite the two colonies. I quickly discovered another use for having duct tape in my bee box: to keep the newspaper from blowing off the hive on a windy day. I returned 24 hours later to find that the colony had not chewed its way through the paper yet, so I added a few slits with a utility knife to help them find the larger colony and cluster below. This nuc did put up a lot of food stores, so now the colony has ample room to grow and expand upward. Now, I'm going to shift that hive stand to the left a bit so that my stands are staggered so all get plenty of sunlight in future seasons.
Even this little one-frame nuc that could, started by a single frame of bees and my one remaining white-dot queen from 2014 has been growing over the winter. I've now got bees in all 3 boxes and a decent sized cluster here. Even though this patty had dried out, they were still working it. Here you can see a couple of bee buts sticking out from a chewed end of the wax paper. I shook them out and replaced this pollen puck with some of the new bee bread and they took to it immediately. Their feeder also was dry, just like the rest. Eat up, girls, and keep growing!
And the other side of this double-nuc configuration is going great guns as well, and had eaten almost all of the hard pollen puck I gave it the previous week. So I rewarded it with a big patty on Super Bowl Sunday, and some more 1:1.
Before I knew it I was all done with the quick winter feeding chores. It was enough to get them through the next week of forecast cold and potential snow the following weekend. Simple tasks that add up to "right action", doing what the bees need me to do and no more, including the dispatch or execution of one of its queens. Some chores are happier than others, but all are necessary to the colonies at large.
And while the sun was setting this day, too, on an amazing season by my beloved Panthers, who suffered a loss in Super Bowl 50, I marveled at the beauty that is my home in Carolina, which for me and my bees is a constant win.
My first open bee yard for my 2016 Mecklenburg County Bee School mentees was on a balmy 66-degree Sunday. No sooner than after a single puff of smoke, while showing them how to approach a hive, BANG-POW!, I was handed my first sting of the year. It was perfect timing, as the bees showed EVERYONE who's really in charge and that they just tolerate a mindful beekeeper but always reserve the right to put them in their place when they see fit. I used it to show my mentees how to scrape a stinger out with a hive tool, and we all laughed it off to a great start. Here I show the group how to handle my frames, turning the foundationless frames on a vertical axis to inspect so that the stress is handled by the comb attached to the top bar.
All told we spent 3 hours inspecting 6 colonies. Of the 6, one is a sure goner. We saw the queen, but she will soon be dispatched and the colony combined with another one of the nucs. She's just not laying and the numbers are dwindling. However, the remaining 5 are not only hanging in there, they are actually INCREASING their numbers. I showed the group how to inspect, what we're looking for, and how to feed. We also started with a spring jump-start: I fed 1:1 sugar syrup to each colony, except for the one that will be combined. Frame feeders makes this possible, and some insulation panels on the brood boxes don't hurt, either (let alone 60-degree days).
Fresh out of the gate the mentees began spotting the queens as we inspected. Can you find her? She's in there, but hiding underneath some bees. This nuc queen was one of the 5 rock stars I'm blessed with this year. Four of those 5 queens were mated last year, and one is a two-year-old girl who shows no sign of slowing down. As for finding this queen, compare abdomen colors and length and you'll find her.
Mentee Chris Odom holds his first frame of bees ever. Each of the mentees got to hold a frame of bees and work the smoker a bit. Each is in their second week of bee school. No time like the present. It was a super fun Sunday for the entire group!
Chris' mom Mary Jo surprised everyone with how natural she was handling and being around the bees. Way to go, Mary Jo! She will make a great beekeeper. "We're farm folk," Chris explained. I sure could tell! As we got into the hives we saw lots of pollen coming into one nuc in shades of bright orange and greenish white. Some of the pollen patties I'd put on a week prior also were being worked. Bees need their protein as well as their carbs to feed their young. Pollen patties help on rainy and cold days when foraging isn't an option. Seeing these nucs build make me more than ever a believer in the power of protein.
We reviewed core bee school concepts like bee space and how many frames go in a standard Langstroth brood chamber. Then I pointed out what happens when you violate those concepts, as I did here, and show the group plenty of burr comb and cross combs that I'll have to take care of in the coming days. But I do love to experiment, and as such I have to deal with the consequences good and bad. So far all of my nucs are in 4-frame double-hives that share a middle wall, or a 9-frame deep + a shallow, and 5 of 6 nucs are increasing. In two colonies we saw the first drones of the season, just 1 or 2 but they were there, along with new wax being made. Yep, swarm season (and spring increase) won't be far off! All in all a very positive outcome for my experimentation in over-wintering 2015-16.
Mentee Kathy Baughman is all smiles as she cooly handles her first frame of bees this year. Kathy also sweetened up the mentor with her most excellent homemade whole wheat chocolate chip cookies. Hey, even a mentor needs his protein (and the mentor's wife)! Kathy also gave the mentor a great idea of which colony to combine the struggling nuc with. Mentors learn as much from their mentees, is what I'm finding out. Another successful experiment underway! Way to go, Mecklenburg County 2016 Bee School!!
Tom Davidson is the owner and beekeeper at T's Bees.
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