April 30, 2007

May Be Spring? Maybe

It has been a cool wet week here in the Northeast. The bees have been flying when possible. The coolness is expected to give way to warm weather this week.

A Queen mating box under construction. You can see the three removable divider making four seporate compartments. Click on the picture for a larger image.

The damp weekend gave me time to work on my queen mating boxes. These are standard deep hive bodies (boxes) which have been divided into four, Two frame sections. This mating box will sit on a special bottom board giving each section its own separate entrance.


(left) Looking down inside a compartment to the screened bottom below.
(Below) The special screened bottom board. See how each section will have it's own entrance?

The plan is, that once queen cells have been raise to the point where the queen is ready to
emerge, each one of these sections will receive a queen cell, with two full frames
of bees and capped brood. Once the queen emerges from her cell she will take two to three mating flights where she will mate with multiple males, 12 to 15. Upon completing her mating process she will return to her compartment and start to lay fertilized eggs. She can then be evaluated, marked, and introduce into a colony who’s queen is failing.

The forsythia has begun to bloom, as well as the peach trees, and early dandelions.

Forsythia Blossom

The forsythia is an important pollen producer for the honey bee in spring. The bees will collect the abundant pollen to use as food for the young.

The peach tree in our yard is always the first fruit tree to bloom. It’s pink flowers are pretty contrast against the yellow flowering forsythia.

Peach Blossom

The blooming of the dandelions are a traditional signal to the northern beekeeper to switch the two deep hive bodies. During the winter months the cluster of bees will work its way around the stores of honey in the hive. They group themselves together into a tight ball, and by moving there wing muscles without moving their wings, they generate enough heat to keep the center of the cluster at 90 degrees. This “ball” of bees will move as a group around the hive and slowly consume the 50 pounds or so of honey that has been stored in the combs. By spring they are almost always in the upper of the two boxes. This is convenient for the beekeeper, because if extra food is required, a sugar candy mixture can be added on top of the frames of bees to sustain them until they can collect food in the spring. Once the dandelions show up, it is warm enough to place the top box with most of the bees, and the queen, on the bottom, and place the mostly empty box of comb on top of the box with the queen.

An overwinterd collony being fed sugar candy. See how all the bees are clustered in one area?
Since the queen likes to move upward in a hive, she will be able to lay eggs below, and when the lower box is depleted of space, she can move upward to the empty combs, which are now being filled with pollen and nectar from the spring flowers. This allows a more rapid buildup of bees in preparation to the main honey flow (nectar flow) which starts here on Cape Cod around the last week of May. Now is buildup time. The more bees we have, the more honey will be produce, but also the greater chance of swarming.

But more about that next time……

April 22, 2007

April has Maple

This morning I woke up to a bright and very warm spring day. The temperatures were in the high 60’s. I poured myself a cup of coffee and went out on the back porch to the sound of loud buzzing. I could tell that the bees were working something. I walked over to the hives to find them “buzzing” with activity. Sure enough the Red Maple (Swamp Maple) has begun to bloom.

The hives "Buzzing" with excitement over the Red Maple Blossoms. Click the photograph for a larger image.

The Red Maple is a native tree to Cape Cod. It is also one of the earliest blooming trees. Unlike its cousin the Sugar Maple, the Red Maple cannot be used to make Maple Syrup, but the bees are gathering the nectar from its blooms to make honey to feed the young they are currently rearing inside the hive. Last year (2006) the Red Maple began blooming around April 10th, almost two weeks earlier than this year (2007). Likewise the yellow Forsythia, which have not begun to bloom this year, were blooming on April 11 of 2006.

It looks like spring has begun a little later this year than last. I guess Phil the Groundhog was wrong, or maybe he just lied, when he said he did not see his shadow in February.

One of my bees working the Red Maple Blossoms. The trees were filled with buzzing.

I was nice to have warm weather and work in the yard. I briefly peeked into the hives to make sure they were taking sugar syrup from the hive top feeders. I have one weak hive I have been watching closely since March. The queen was introduced to the hive in the Summer of 2006, and produced well into the fall, but for some reason their numbers dropped off rapidly in February. They are down to about 2 frames of bees. I replaced the hive top feeder with a bucket feeder placed directly over the brood area of the colony. Since they had recent signs of dysentery I added some Fumagilin-B medication to the sugar syrup. As a rule I do not medicate the bees in the spring, but since all my hives had signs of dysentery this winter, and with a new (and more severe) form of Nosema being discovered in bees this year, I may end up adding medication to all the hives this spring.

This weeks predicted warm weather should help the bees increase their numbers.

April 18, 2007

April showers bring… Honey Pie

Well we are still feeling the effects of the record breaking Nor’easter here on the Cape. The spring temperatures continue to be below normal for this time of year. These colder spring temperatures are hard on the Bees. When temperatures tip below 40 degrees the bees start to cluster. Not much work gets done, and the colony certainly does not expand.

A worker bee bringing pollen an nector into the hive

Fortunately I was able to check the hives prior to the big storm and replace any pollen patties or food that may be required. Even with the rain, if the temperatures climb above 40 they will be able to feed. One hive which has been weak all spring, continues to dwindle in numbers. The cluster is down to only one and a half frames of bees. If it does not warm up soon I don’t know if they will be able to survive.

A nice shot of one of my bees with pollen on his hind legs
The bees were flying the Saturday before Easter, and I was able to take a few photographs of the bees bringing in some much needed spring pollen.

The weather has been so cold that the bees have not taken any of the sugar syrup feed that was place on the hives the end of March. Our shipment of new bees has been delayed a week due to the weather. This will give a little more time to prepare the required equipment.

The weather forecast is predicting warm temperatures this weekend.

My wife's Honey Apricot Pie
On the positive side, the bad weather has encouraged some cooking and baking on the part of my talented wife. For the Easter holiday she prepared a unique honey apricot chiffon pie with chocolate and almond bees. There were many steps involved but as you can see the pie came out beautiful. The best part was that it tasted better than it looked!

It makes you almost wish for more rain so there will be more baking.

But I’m not!

April 5, 2007

Of Mice, Men, and Bees

Of Mice, Men, and Bees

The weather was warm enough (low 60’s) to open up the hives and have a more detailed look inside, as well as doing some basic hive maintenance like cleaning off the bottom boards of dead bees and miscellaneous hive debris.

As expected I opened one of the hives to find a family of mice living inside the bottom hive body. A hive is a nice dry place for mice to live during the winter. The bees stay in the upper box, to far away to do much damage to mice during the cold winter months. It appears that my home made mouse guards, which are supposed to keep the mice out, did not work the way they were intended to. I ended up replacing three of the four chewed combs with drawn comb from last season.

The Crocus have started blooming and there were some bees working the welcomed flowers. Pollen collection seamed to be the task of the day. Pollen is consumed by the bees as their carbohydrate. Mixed with some honey this “Bee Bread” is fed to the young while they develop through their various stages from egg to adult. Pollen is crucial to the spring buildup of the hive. An over-wintered hive will expand from around 4,000 bees in the spring to about 60,000 bees in August. The number of bees in the hive has a direct effect the amount of nectar collected by the bees from the flowers, and thus the amount of honey which will be produced that summer.

A retro-fitted bottom board. Once solid it has been modified to be a screened bottom board with a pull-out sticky board.

It has been a cold spring here on Cape Cod. The bees have not yet started feeding off the sugar syrup placed in the hive top feeders two weeks ago. Once the warmer spring weather appears the bees will kick into high gear raising and feeding the young larva.

I would be interested to hear from other northern beekeepers regarding the condition of their hives. What are you doing to feed and help you bees?

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Peach Pollen

Spring Pollen

Spring Pollen

Queen Cell

Queen Cell
Well Fed Queen Cell

Marked Queen

Marked Queen
Queen produced from my second graft attempt