Everyone is ready for spring adventures, including my trusty bee yard companion, Olive who wonders, "Will daddy let me come out to play while he does bee stuff?" Yes, yes he did. Good daddy, good!
The weekend mornings started nice and brisk. After snapping this photo, I put my weather sensor on a hive body and in 15 minutes it was 83 degrees! My wife Yvonne was convinced that the bees inside the hive boxes influenced the reading. So I moved the sensor.
I put it on a non-reflective empty nuc box just in front of the hives to get an accurate non hive-influenced reading. I couldn't seem to move my finger out of the way, either.
And Y was right, sort of ... the bee boxes do give off heat. But since bees heat only the cluster and not the interior of the hive I suspect the heat is reflected from the light yellow paint on the hives onto the sensor plate. No matter, this shows what you can do even when it's in the 30's in the shade here in the Piedmont of North Carolina. With hives in a sunny spot, it's a different ballgame altogether. Time to get to work.
The finishing touches were put on my queen castle by adding a lip underneath all four sides of each compartment's lid. This allows for bee space on the top bars, so bees can patrol them if they want or need to and munch on a pollen patty if they want. It also made for a sturdier compartment lid all around.
Once we got in the hives Sunday, we discovered all were beginning to BOOM! Tight brood patterns and lots of drones are being made. Above you can see a fabulous frame from my first over-wintered nucleus colony, or "nuc", from last year. It was wings to legs bees, bees, BEES top to bottom. This lovely tight brood pattern greeted me and my mentees on our first inspection on Sunday. On the right of this frame there is a lot of drone brood as well. So this nuc will need to be convinced to not swarm out on me in the very near future. This same nuc was suffering from a high mite-load last fall, until I gave it and the hives three rounds of oxalic acid vapor (OAV). It has rebounded wonderfully. I am now a believer in OAV, right action and strategic feeding inside the hive during winter.
We saw this beauty, my two-year-old white dot queen, laying away and growing her nuc. She was put in a box and ignored all summer long, her and a little frame of bees. Now they're almost ready to move into larger quarters, or to make up more splits! I want more of her genetics. Of the 4 queen-right colonies currently in the yard, she's given me three. I hope to make up another 4 from her this year.
Here is a beautiful queen cell, just capped. Last week my mentees and I took my largest hive, which descended from a swarm I collected in 2014, and removed its queen and a contingent to a nuc box. This week we found 8 queen cells on the queenless hive, most had just been capped. One queen cell (QC) was destroyed when we separated the boxes and another slightly damaged. We left at least two beautiful QC's behind on the parent hive. There could've been more, but we verified two were left on adjacent frames. Mentee Chris Odom and I then moved a frame of food (pollen and nectar) and a queen cell frame into a compartment of the queen castle, and repeated the procedure into the adjoining compartment. I then shook extra bees from 4 or 5 frames into the compartments from the parent hive. In the course of all this, the mentor (me) dropped a frame to my utter shame. But, I took a deep breath, laughed about it, and slowly finished the job. No stings were gathered in this operation, though I certainly deserved at least two or three! These bees are so calm and gentle, even a week after being made queenless and a clumsy beekeeper, yet another reason to promote these wonderful genetics!
I made sure to outfit each entrance for each of the queen castle's 4 compartments with a bit of screen to prevent robbing. Each entrance also got a unique dot and/or dash configuration. These unique marks will help the queens orient and find their way back home once they start flying and mating.
Last week I gave the 2015 Q-D nuc a piece of broken comb. I rubber banded and jute-strung it into place. The nuc is doing wonderful, and the beautiful queen was spotted and laying. The girls have almost chewed through one of the jute strings, and maneuvered the comb down on the right and fastened it to the bottom, and re-attached the top left to the top. In a couple of days I should probably remove at least that jute to give them a break. But for now we put it back. They don't seem to mind it one bit. Bees are industrious and really amazing. They take a little something and turn it into a lot of something great. I try to do the same, make the most out of everything.
Here Chris inspects a beautiful frame of tight capped brood and honey from my white dot queen. We went through all 6 colonies and made 2 more, Lord willin'. Not bad for a beautiful late February Sunday afternoon.
Mentee Mary Fabian got into the bees, too, and was happy to dispense more 1:1 syrup and pollen patties. The apiary is beginning to boom. Fingers and toes are crossed the new splits we made up will yield strong new colonies, more new healthy, happy honey bees in 2016. Time will tell. Soon it will be time to make up more splits for this spring. Happy flying, girls!
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Tom Davidson is the owner and beekeeper at T's Bees.
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