March 22, 2010

Spring Has Sprung

The first day of spring has arrived! And it has arrived in beautiful fashion!

Temperatures rose into the low 70’s this weekend, allowing for a quick inspection of the hives.

The crocus flowers are blooming, allowing the bees to collect much needed spring pollen. The pollen they collect will be used to boost brood production as they “build up” in size in preparation for the spring honey flow.

Right:  The first Crocus to emerge on our property, and a week early too!

The warm temperatures over the past few days have been a wonderful reminder of days to come.

Several times I found myself sitting out near the hives just watching them fly in and out, heavily burdened with yellow packages of pollen on their back legs. Some bees were busy dragging out the dead from winter loses, while others just seemed happy to get out and into the sun shine.

I have been keeping a written record of the progress of the hives over the past years, and I am happy to report that the crocus bloom is running about a week ahead of schedule…. An early spring.

I guess the Ground Hog was wrong!

Left:  A worker bee returning to the hive with some of the first spring pollen.

As I mentioned the rise in temperature allowed a quick inspection of some of the hives. Sure enough, young brood, and capped larva were observed on two if not three frames of bees. The queens probably started laying eggs sometime in February.

Some cells and already emerged, perhaps these were the bees I watched taking their first orientation flights in the sun.

Pollen patties were once again added to the hives. I have been surprised how quickly they have been consumed. Each colony has been through a patty a week since the beginning of March. In a few more weeks we will begin providing sugar syrup to the hives to imitate the collection of nectar. This will stimulate the queens to lay even more eggs, and cause the hives to build up faster.

Above:  With the cover and inner cover removed you can see the new small hive beetle trap installed.  The trap is baited with an attactant oil.  The bees will chase the beetles, and the beetles should enter the trap to hide, where they will meet there demise.  You can also see a new pollen patty just added to the colony along with the remains of the white bee candy.  The yellow "frame" to the far right is a division board feeder which will be used to feed the bees sugar syrup next month.

Now is our buildup time. The more bees in the colonies come May. The more honey will be on the hives in August.

Some dead hive beetles were found on the sticky boards below the screened bottom boards. This indicates that some hive beetles are continuing to survive, with the bees, through the winter. I purchased two different types of beetle traps to use in addition to the bottom board traps I have been using. These new traps fit between the frames in the upper hive body. They are baited with an attractant oil. I have not used these before. I hope they work. The next inspection will show if this trap works.

Left:  Progress of the mead I started in February.  You can see how much it has cleared over the past month.  To the right is a photo taken at the height of fermentation. 
I plan on drinking this mead while we are extracting honey this Septermber!

The bee candy was once again added where needed, even though there is still abundant honey still in the combs. The bees have now been “trained” to feed off of this candy, although with so much honey left in the comb these hives will have to be watched carefully for swarming in the months to come.

I had quite the feeling of accomplishment this weekend. It is nice that all of the hives survived this winter. Perhaps, after 31 years, I have finally figured out how to prepare them for winter.

Or perhaps, I was just lucky.


March 8, 2010

If I knew then what I know now

This blog post will be an examination of my queen rearing attempts over the past three years with conclusions regarding correct and or incorrect processes.

My queen rearing project began out of a desire to see my bees survive the damp cape cod winters. I had been experiencing a 50% to 80% loss of colonies from year to year.

Left:  Example of bee larva of various ages.

I along with many beekeepers have noticed that over the past 30 years it has been harder and harder to keep bees. I have seen winter hive looses, not to mention summer hive losses, increase year after year.

I remember when I was 17 years old with my first hive of bees. They were Starline hybrid bees, and I knew next to nothing about keeping them. The hive survived for years on its own. Now that would seldom if ever happen. A hive that is not carefully kept and attended to will probably die the first season. Trachea, and Verroa mites along with the small hive beetle, as well new bee viruses, not to mention colony collapse disorder have devastated the bee population.

Right:  Queen Pupa of the development age from different size queen cells.  These queens were grafted on the same day.  Their developmental variation is probably due to the age of the larva at the time they were grafted.

In breeding and mass production of queens have weakened the genetic quality of our bees. Queens that would once last four or five years need to be replaced every two.

 Left:  A steady hand is needed to transfer the fragile larva from the comb into the artifical cell

 So what have I done about it? Well three years ago I started learning how to raise queens of my own. With both success and failure.

2007 (year 1). I experimented with two methods of queen rearing. The miller method, and the Doolittle method. I quickly became apparent to me that the Doolittle method allowed me much more control over the queen rearing process.

Right:  Larva after being grafted.  These larva should be only three days old.  Their various ages can bee seen by the degree of curviture of the larva.  Three day old larve look like a comma.  Some of these grafts appear to be 4 or 5 days old.  This would result in poor quality queens.


I learned how to graft (I was dry grafting at the time) larva into artificial cells.

I learned how to create a cell starter colony

I learned how to create a cell builder colony

I learned how to create queen mating nucs.

I was able to have 10% of my grafts accepted by the cell builder colony (9 out of 90 grafts)

Good size queen cells were created by the cell builder colony

I had 8 queens emerge

Queens were of adequate size.

I had 3 queens mate and start laying

Left:  Two days after grafting and being placed in a cell builder, you can see the larva floating in a pool of royal jelly.  You can also see how the nurse bees have started to add wax to the plastic cell as they start creating the queen cell.


Only 10% of my grafts were accepted

No queens survived into 2008

2008 (year2). I continued to experiment with the Doolittle method of queen rearing. I started to learn more about bee genetics and the importance of the Drone (male). I took a queen rearing class and discovered that if the artificial cells were primed with royal jelly, or even plain yogurt, better grafting results could be obtained.

Left:  My first queen cells from 2007.  You can see how large they are.  This is due to the proper age larve being grafted into the cell, and the fact that only 8 cells were accepted and fed by the nurse bees.  The cell builder colony was not over whelmed by the number of queen cells.


I raised queens three times that spring.

Wet grafting of larvae improved my acceptance rate to 90%

Grafting 90 cells yielded 80 queen cells.

I raised 15 mated queens that season.


Queen cell size was very small. This was partly due to my over whelming my cell builder hives with too many queen cells. I believe that I also grafted larva that was 4 or 5 days old not 3 as I should have. This resulted in smaller cells and smaller queens.

I had a problem creating nucs. I was not as organized as I should have been. I attempted to make splits from nearby colonies. 50% of the nucs created returned home to the mother hives abandoning the queen cells and brood placed in the nuc. The previous year I had used relocated bees to create the nucs. That method worked much better.

Right:  Queen cells from 2008.  You can see how small the cells are.  This was probably due to the number of grafts placed in the cell builder and the age of the grafted larva being too old.

I had problems with small hive beetle larva infesting two of the nucs creating a situation where the bees abandoned the nuc. This was probably due to the low numbers of bees remaining in the nucs thus creating stress within the nuc colony.

Queen quality was poor due to the small cell size. I did not attempt to over winter any of the queens.

2009 (year 3). I continued with the Doolittle method of queen rearing. It was an extremely cold wet spring. The colonies would not buildup and missed the main honey flow (May, June, and July). All the colonies were starving in August, a time where there should have been 60 pounds of surplus honey on each hive. Since there was no promise of honey that season two of the colonies were used for queen rearing.

Left:  Grafts from 2009.  Better cell size, but still too small.


I continued having great success with grafting and acceptance of the grafts. This improved to a 95% acceptance rate.

I learned how to create and use, with success, a queen right cell builder colony.

Grafted three cycles of queen cells over a two month period.

Raised 25 queens.

Learned how to bank queens.

One queen was overwintered and has survived.

Right:  More small queen cells


Queen cells were small again. It became apparent that I was grafting larva that was too old. During one cycle, queens emerged two days before the expected age of 16 days old destroying 19 queen cells.

I had the same problems with creating mating nucs. Many queens were lost because the workers returned to the mother colonies.

I became allergic to bee stings

2010 (year 4). We will see, won’t we!


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