I definitely love my new office. It doesn't get better than this. Springs magnificence is something to bee-hold, and I'm so glad to I get to truly enjoy it this year. The tulip poplar trees are in full bloom, and honey is trucking into the hives at a massive rate. This is the foremost food supply of our bees here in the Piedmont of the Old North State. Aren't they beautiful? I am lucky that my neighborhood is surrounded by an amazing grove of these awesome trees with flowers the size of your fist supplying a huge supply of delicious nectar to my honey bees.
With an amazing nectar flow comes an amazing swarm season. Many swarm cells were taken from my big honey producing hive this year. Fortunately for me, the hive returned from its initial swarm while I was away from "the office", some 35 feet up a tree, back to its hive. I found the queen, corralled her for a bit, made several new starts off these gorgeous queen cells, knocked down the rest, gifted them a super of drawn comb that she can lay in, did a little bit of checkerboarding, put a queen excluder on the bottom board in case they wanted to swarm out again to prevent the queen from leaving with them (so they'd return) and knocked down all remaining queen cells.
Such gorgeous queen cells are yielding amazing split opportunities, which means MORE NUC's! I am making and selling nucleus colonies this year, and loving the ride.
T's bes are drawing out foundation as fast as I put it in and filling it up with nectar from all the foliage that this spring is yielding.
I've been leaving all these purple tiny whatever flowers in my yard, which is taking over my grass. I mow it when I have to, but put my mower at a high setting so the bees can enjoy the nectar these tiny blooms have to offer.
We had a three-day period of major rainfall recently. Even during temperatures in the low- to mid-50's and rain all around, the honey bees made their way to the old watering hole at the birdbath turned bee bath whenever they could. Once trained on a water source, they come back no matter what.
I put up a couple of swarm traps, one in the tree that my honey hive originally swarmed to before returning to its hive. Immediately scout bees checked out the traps!
Here are a couple of scout bees checking out the trap I'd just installed. The best swarms are the ones that come to you. But they won't if you don't have your swarm traps up!
These magnificent flowers, not irises but I think something of a relative, not only brighten a rainy day but provide a gorgeous plate for my honey bees to enjoy some food.
Our blackberries and raspberries are also exploding, and my honey bees are having a ball pollinating those flowers as well. Yes, THIS is truly the best office I have ever had, praise the Lord!
These mid-spring days are magical, filled with the amazing scent of Confederate jasmine. The tulip poplar flow is on and heavy now but recently something "changed" in the mix. I could tell by the smells in the apiary. I'm pretty sure it's the jasmine. Magical.
I was checking in on 5 new nuc's I was hoping contained newly mated queens. Only two were found, so a 40% success rate. I was hoping for more, but be thankful with what you have. I couldn't help but dwell on that 60% negative. But it was beautiful to see this girl moving about, another amber beauty (she's in the top center portion of the frame). It's a lot of moving pieces and parts around, timing and sheer luck. Oh, and I found this one on an end frame in the box. Everyone loves to say how rare it is to find queens on end frames. This was the third or fourth time this year.
When I opened up this little nuc, I was greeted with this, an excited worker bee surprised at my intrusion, exuding wax scales from two of the eight wax glands on the underside of her abdomen. Here you can tell the scales actually come off in a geometric form, pretty close to the hexagonal shape their comb takes. I confirmed another new queen has safely returned and online, laying wonderfully in another new nuc.
That's a good thing, because my favorite queen, the 2014 White Dot Queen? Missing! Not only missing, but no eggs found in her colony, which had exploded in just a month. Only capped brood was found and lots of nectar and pollen, so they're backfilling under the heavy flow and the queen has been absent for at least 10 days. Not good. But then my eyes caught this. Hard to see from the untrained eye, but you can see bees covering two queen cells. I parted them with a little breath of air.
This is a couple days later, but the view was the same: two queen cells that had emerged. So, either the colony had swarmed with my favorite old queen (unlikely since the number of bees has only grown) OR they superseded her and a new virgin queen is somewhere in the hive (OR, the beekeeper inadvertently killed her on his last inspection, but I swear I didn't). Another "failure". But something happened. And maybe the bees know best? She was two years old and has given me daughter queens and other colonies and honey as a result. So no, not a failure, just her time.
To make best use of time, I gifted them a frame of eggs and larvae, and two swarm cells underway from another hive. Wait, SWARM CELLS?!! Yep, my best honey production hive filling top to bottom with bees and honey, the first new queen of 2016, was getting ready to leave! She was TOO full and prepping to swarm. A couple of days later I successfully found that queen and artificially swarmed her and a contingent to another box, where I am keeping them confined for a few days. Another nuc has begun. So I removed one frame that had beginning swarm cells and gifted it to the White Dot Queen colony just to make sure they weren't queenless. It doesn't hurt to help the bees hedge their bets. If they don't want the swarm cells, they'll tear them down, but if they do they'll be much happier I gave it to them.
So back to the 2016 Queen-A group: they had just one other frame with beginning swarm cells on it, two, and some eggs left, so they should make yet another new queen. Things are going F-A-S-T here in the super heavy nectar flow. It's making my head spin!! One big boomer hive will stay, hopefully, and continue to put up honey while making a new queen, provided I free up space for a new queen to lay in once she's online.
I happily saw this beautiful site looking in on one of the new nuc starts I was attempting. See her? Look in the bottom right corner, hiding in the crease between the bottom bar and the fat honey comb above. There you'll see a gorgeous long light amber queen!
Here's a better view. You can also see the eggs she's begun laying in a gorgeous tight brood pattern. Another success! Two out of five isn't all that bad, I told myself.
But uh-oh, here's why I'm finding swarm cell preparations in my whopper hive with a two-month-old queen. They'd drawn out combs, filled it and distilled all that nectar into honey in just a month. It was mind-boggling. But it was also a problem. A honey-bound hive will swarm and that's a big no-no for a beekeeper who wants to keep as many of his awesome queens as possible.
To add to my previously perceived troubles, I found this in another nuc that was trying to make a queen, an emergency cell. Not sure what the story is there, other than they didn't like the new queen very well and instantly started prepping to supersede her. Always trust the bees is my motto. I gently set this back and will gift them some eggs when I check back after a long-awaited vacation.
Remember when I said perceived troubles? Well the mind's a funny thing. It and your eyes will play tricks on you. I checked back in on another nuc that had "failed". But I gave them another shot, gifting them some eggs and brood. Time passed, and I was happy to see this new queen running about. So a previous "failure" was actually a success! It was just a matter of time, and now makes me super excited to check back in on the remaining two colonies that I thought didn't make a new queen. So far, 3 new queens are online and laying happily, and possibly more. My success rate was now 60%. Time to stop letting the mind play tricks on me. Oh, and yes, this was an end-frame, too! Fifth time this year, and counting. A word to the wise, be gentle when you pull EVERY frame, including the end frame, because you just never know where she might be.
Having averted a swarm, it was time to take off honey from these hives to open up the brood nest as well as give them lots more empty comb to put even more honey in. A lot of extra work I hadn't counted on, but so bee it! You've got to act when they need you to, or slightly before if possible. The nectar flow is only halfway done and should last, Lord willin', another 6 weeks or so. Didn't I say things were moving fast? Sure are. Here's what a gorgeous super fat frame of honey looks like uncapped and ready to extract.
It was glorious to see the liquid gold running once more. This always makes a beekeeper happy, but his customers will be even more happy. They've been quite anxious to get a taste of this year's raw, local honey! I don't blame them. It's amazing.
I had a bright idea to speed up the filtering process. Tried it out and it worked. The honey is passed through a series of filters, but the weight of the honey bogs down the filters one atop the other, making for a LOOOOOONG draining process.
Here's the tip of the season: a wine cork cut in half. Once I separated the filters just a bit, the honey filtered and flowed into the harvest bucket pronto. I love me some low-tech solutions! And drinking the wine to get the corks also is a nice treat.
This year I had several goals. One was to start selling bees, which I successfully have. It's my favorite part of beekeeping, the raising of the bees. But I'm often told I can't do both, raise bees and harvest honey. So I had a modest honey goal of 75 pounds. In just my first harvest this year I took off 77 pounds, possibly more once the cappings tank finishes draining out. So goals achieved, and the season is still underway! Time to really look at successes for what they are, instead of constantly perceiving failures where there are truly only blessings. Enjoy the season. This is my favorite one so far.
Carolina morning colors to send one off on their way is a happy palette.
Orientation flights remain one of my most favorite things to witness and experience in the bee yard. There's nothing like the sight, feel and sound of it. Here's a video of a Friday afternoon's orientation. Right now it's occurring around 3:30 each afternoon. When someone says, "your bees are swarming" they usually mean this. It's something mentees aren't used to and wonder "what's happening?" All good things, as young bees orient themselves to their home and learn to fly.
It was time to say goodbye to some over-wintered nuc's that I'd used to make even more colonies. It was bittersweet loading up these spectacular queens and nuc's for sale and travel. I used the Brushy Mountain "superior design" nuc box. It's heavily waxed. But it does not secure itself, meaning the bottom will fall out unless you secure it. But tape on a waxed surface doesn't work well, not even duct tape as you can see here. Still, clear mailing tape on the outsides did the trick. This nuc was the largest I said goodbye to. It is MONSTROUS. When I started out 6 years ago my two Russian nuc's were teensy in comparison, not even a third of this size. I do believe in providing my best to the customer.
A third nuc was finally all settled in, and showed off a nice group of bees. The next morning before the temps rose high enough for the bees to start flying I shut the entrances on the nuc boxes so the customer wouldn't lose the field force.
Goodbye, sweet 2015 nuc's. You've been amazing. I kept the screen raised on each with a wine cork. After inspection with the customer, we lowered the screen mesh sans cork and they were ready for travel. They rewarded me with a single sting as I carried a nuc to his vehicle. Seemed like a perfect parting gift.
After those goodbyes, it was time to say hello to my next round of queens in the making and nucleus hive starts. Here's a beautiful frame with several queen cells, the last of which is being capped (you can see the tip of the queen larvae inside the open cell).
I made sure to put at least two frames of bees in each, and opted for a third in the long run just to be sure. A frame of food and a frame of capped brood went into each start.
More beautiful queen cells on a gorgeous frame mixed with worker brood and honey. A perfect frame to make a start with. All in all, I took one hive and hopefully will end up with five when all is said and done (the old queen with her contingent making up one of the nuc's, so 4 new colonies plus an artificial swarm with the original queen).
This same hive that generated such beautiful queen cells was also generating lots of honey. Queenless bees in a populous hive during a spring nectar flow will put up some honey. Just two weeks ago it got its first honey super. The frames were half drawn and filled with capped honey. Fresh honey on fresh comb is also one of my favorite things.
While mowing the grass I stopped to literally smell the flowers. These little tiny flowers of "weeds" (or survivor plants as I call them) were one of the first flowers to greet them as they came out of winter. So I let the plants flower before I cut them.
The grand old red tip tree is in full bloom now, as are the tulip poplars around our neighborhood. Morning sun on their fluffy throngs of blossoms was also a beautiful way for me to say hello to a new day and week as I said goodbye for now.
Tom Davidson is the owner and beekeeper at T's Bees.
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