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.
In accordance with our inclement weather policy, T's Bees Apiary is officially closed for the remainder of today and also will be closed Saturday, January 23, 2016. Exceptions will be made on a case-by-case basis for those bees brave enough to take a cleansing flight. Our policy is to follow the lead of the moon, winds, sun and our loyal scout bees, while occasionally stinging the beekeeper. Stay tuned for updates.
So far, so good. Six out of 7 colonies I attempted to take through winter, all of them nucs in one size or another, have made it. We've had many warm days so far this winter. But I was tickled to see after a week of lows in the 30s and 20s all six of the remaining colonies doing well. The black plastic tarp on one of our garden boxes is quite the popular watering hole when temps make it to the low to mid-50s.
The bees love the nutrients from the leafy water, and a cozy warm-up from the sun-soaked tarp.
I do love to experiment (as my readers well know). Since my nuc sizes were small, I hedged my bets by adding insulation panels on the brood boxes this year. Was very easy to do and I rest easier. I made sure to increase ventilation since that is crucial to surviving winter. Here you can see an additional experiment I did a couple weeks ago: put a shim in-between the brood box and a super to encourage the bees to chow down on the delicious pollen patties I was providing. I realized I was setting myself up for some problems by doing so (of course, at about 3 a.m. on any random morning). With Saturday hitting 56 degrees, it was my chance to correct that mistake, as well as look in and provide some additional emergency 2:1 sugar syrup (I use frame feeders). My tiny colonies don't have a lot of stores, so I'm hedging my bets by continuing to feed them carbs and protein.
But when it's warm enough, they somehow, miraculously find pollen on their own. In winter! Someone didn't tell my bees that pollen isn't produced during winter, and they found some. Here you can see green and yellow pollen on the hind legs of bees on the landing board.
So time to do some quick work and right a wrong. Nice looking cluster that seems to be growing! I top-dressed the frames, removed the dried out patty and fed some 2:1. This colony didn't produce hardly any burr comb between the boxes, thank goodness.
But this colony sure did. Okay, Thomas, time to fix this.
Not just a mess above, but gotta clean up the mess below. A bit of heavy smoking cleared the bees so I could remove the burr comb.
So cool to see the cluster up top. This colony has been growing through the winter. This one had an amber queen with a gimpy leg. I found her in late fall, realizing the two black Carniolan queens I'd put in the box didn't make it because this colony had requeened itself and she won out. Though gimpy her brood pattern was tight so I said a prayer for her. She is doing very well!
Removing the extra burr comb revealed eggs, larvae and pupae, which told me she's laying well. Also I was happy to see no varroa mites on the pupae that were exposed. The fall oxalic acid treatments really did my colonies good, it seems.
After cleaning up, I put the shim and a fresh pollen patty on top where it should be. After feeding all six of my little colonies, I can rest easy (well, easier) for a bit. Spring is just around the corner (and so is pre-spring, which is time to amp things up a notch and turn these nucs into large, populous hives).
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Tom Davidson is the owner and beekeeper at T's Bees.
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