Last bees come in for landing at sundown, just a day after package installation, kicking off a special year of beekeeping in 2014.
Both hives were backfilled with honey two weeks ago and the nectar flow is underway, so I stopped feeding. I was hoping this would mean they'd eat a lot of the extra food to free up space for the queens to lay. That worked, and I'm going to remember to feed until they back-fill, then back off. The combs that were 20 and 30% drawn a couple weeks ago were almost finished, some at the 95% mark. The capped brood patterns are nice and tight. Where there are holes there are larvae about to be capped, and surrounding the capped brood are beautiful new worker cells filled with royal jelly and single eggs. Both hives are doing great at bringing in a good amount of pollen and positioning it around the brood, as well as nectar and putting up honey on the outside fringes of all frames. The end honey frames are filled with nectar and they're starting to cap those over as well.
Since traffic has increased, it was time to switch out entrance reducers. I removed my 3-hole reducers on both Boris and Natasha and installed a reducer with a larger opening to allow for more traffic. Soon, I'll be removing the reducers altogether. I'm keeping them on since they're still small hives, and just to be safe.
These frames are from Natasha. I was worried when the first brood frame I pulled, from position 3, was intermixed drone and worker brood in the center, which is odd. Is this queen a drone layer? She even put a couple of random drone cells here and there. But the brood patterns are still tight, even though it may not look like it here. Each of these cells are filled with single eggs. You can see the small bands of workers busy spinning out the comb on the bottom and edges of the combs. How cool is that? Once I got into her other brood frames, she had one more frame of brood and eggs in her hive than Boris, and most were top to bottom worker brood. It's early spring and mating season, and drones are being added to the gene pool. Something to keep an eye on, though. It could be that as this comb was being spun that it stretched, making some cells larger and more suited to drone than worker. Time will tell. You can even see the eggs in the freshly built cells in the closeup. Just beautiful.
Fresh comb is just beautiful and I never get tired of watching the girls spin out comb. A starter frame of old comb hung by hair clips and cable ties had been filled with nectar. The cells were large and fit for drone and honey. The weight of the nectar made the comb sag in the middle and it was going askew. Time for some surgery. I added a third clamp and then 3 rubber bands for support and straightening. When the girls are finished with this, they'll chew through the rubber bands and break them off. I'll cut out the hair clamps once they finish the comb.
Here are the charts for Boris and Natasha. As you can tell, things are trending up. Soon, it'll be time to add another super on to give the colonies more room to grow! :-) Here is how Boris is doing. Note, on the combo chart at right, a "3" is the highest mark on a 0 to 3 scale. Boris registered a 3 average on brood pattern! You can also see that removing the feeders did free up brood space, as frames of bees increased and nectar and honey went down from 3 (when it was seriously back-filled) to a 2.
And here is how Natasha is doing. At left you can see she has one more frame of brood and eggs than Boris. :-)
Needless to say, Yvonne got lots of extra kisses and Twisted Teas for all her hard work in setting this up for me and showing me how it's done. Whatever system you make for yourself, as a beekeeper I am convinced you should collect data and take notes on every visit. It'll make you a better beekeeper, which means ... more bees!
Okay, time for some "bee porn". These are shots taken from my first inspection on April 13.
This is how my hives looked after my first inspection.
A new friend of ours, Celeste, came over to visit on Easter Sunday. It was her first experience in bees. She really dug it. I made Celeste bee photographer for the day. She did great! We had fun, taking our time, jotting down notes, talking about what was going on, me almost accidentally breaking off a new comb by holding the frame incorrectly (I gently returned it to its rightful place and the bees will repair the damage), us finding both queens, and looking for eggs and brood.
Before we opened up the hives, I noticed that Boris' traffic was real congested with the one small opening from the entrance reducer. I happen to like my 3-hole homemade reducers, and Natasha was doing great with hers, so I replaced the store-bought reducer on Boris with my 3-hole garden variety.
One of the things I'm doing differently this year is staying more organized in and out of the field. As I started letting the bees know I was coming in with a few puffs of smoke, I opened my "Bee Box," an old tool box that has everything in it I may need whether in my yard or on a swarm call. It includes a pocket notepad and pencil. I'm collecting data and entering it into a spreadsheet that auto-generates charts, so I can visually see how my hives are doing throughout the year and skipping having to talk endlessly about beekeeping minutiae on this blog. Which means, I get to post more fun stuff like pictures and drawings (to come). :-) As you can tell, I was tickled to see that they'd started drawing comb out on one of the end frames. I know, it's little, but it's a start!
Then Celeste and I had a grand time inspecting and looking for eggs, brood and the queens. My ridiculously slow pace of taking notes has to improve. But I told Celeste going in we were taking our own sweet time. Why not? I've missed having bees in the back yard! It's time to hang out with the bees. Another wonderful Easter surprise was that for the first time when I felt the gentle wisp of a bee crawling on my hand, I didn't flinch or try to blow it out of the way, but just let her go. She did. And know what? I felt great! Really a sweet, sweet sensation. She was so gentle, and after goofing up and partially breaking one of their combs I realized I should take a lesson from the girls and be just as gentle as they were being with me. I've been waiting to get rid of my automatic "flinch response" to feeling an insect touch my skin, and after 4 years I think it's finally happening. Small victories, day by day, you know? Here are shots from the Boris inspection (thanks, Celeste!). BTW, do not believe those who say you MUST use foundation to get bees to draw comb. Poppycock!
I buttoned up Boris with a half gallon of 1:1 syrup. They've consumed quite a bit, but were back-filling the combs with it. I was relieved to see that they've opened up cells for the queen to lay in. I saw 3 frames with capped brood on Boris. She's preferring to lay in the brand new comb, I realized. The nectar flow has begun in Charlotte, thanks to info I've received from my bee buddy and former MeckBees president George McAllister. He weighs his hives, and though slow and steady, his hives are gaining weight daily (when it's not raining). Both hives have eaten less syrup in recent days. Natasha has really slowed down eating the syrup, so I didn't give her any. Onto the inspection of Natasha. It's a bigger colony, but has drawn less comb than the smaller Boris. Weird, right? Also interesting was that she had more capped brood and eggs in her combs than Boris. They're each ahead of one another in different categories. It'll be interesting to see how these colonies develop. The partial combs I'd given Natasha had all been secured to the sides, so she's buttoning down her hatches.
And lo and behold, Celeste was able to snap a quick photo of the queen. The white mark on her makes it easy! Also I find interesting that Natasha is working fewer frames of comb, preferring to draw more out on a single frame instead of more frames of smaller combs. Whatever works, is what I say. And she, too, had started another one that had been untouched just a few days prior. All in all, this was one happy beekeeper at Easter! :-)
Tom Davidson is the owner and beekeeper at T's Bees.
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