Friday, June 25, 2010

North Carolina Governor Stung By The Beekeeping Bug!

(Raleigh, NC) On Tuesday, Gov. Bev Perdue suited up in beekeeper attire and approached a job perhaps no other North Carolina governor has tackled – pulling honeycombs from beehives with thousands of honeybees buzzing nearby.

“That’s a lot of honey!” Gov. Perdue exclaimed, as she removed a narrow honeycomb literally dripping gold.

The two beehives sitting on the north lawn of the executive mansion in Raleigh were installed late last year, after grounds supervisor Gerald Adams decided to explore the benefits of having bees to pollinate the gardens on the grounds. Adams, who oversees production of a number of crops used by the first family and donated to local area food banks, has already seen a dramatic difference.

“Apple trees that have never had more than a handful of apples on them now show 50 or 60 or more,” he said. “The pollination benefits of the bees have been clear already within the first six months of having the hives.”

The honeybees, which may fly up to a 2-mile radius around the hive every day, were sprayed with non-harmful smoke to subdue them; then the governor assisted Danny and Mary Jaynes as they removed the trays of honeycombs from the hives. Danny Jaynes is the president of the Wake County Beekeepers Association and has mentored Adams during his introduction to beekeeping.

"The honeybee is not only North Carolina’s state insect, but also a crucial player in North Carolina agriculture. Their role in pollinating our crops is essential, and often overlooked by people who don’t know the important part they play,” said Gov. Perdue. “Having the bees here on the mansion grounds not only gives us a chance to boost our own fruit and vegetable production, but also serves as an education tool for the school groups and tours who visit the mansion regularly.”

So just how much honey did the group harvest? According to the Jaynes, nearly 12 gallons, or some 150 pounds. The honey, which was inspected and deemed “Grade A,” will be bottled and used at the mansion, given as gifts from the governor and first gentleman, and donated to local food banks.

Story from a news release from the North Carolina Governor's Office issued July 23rd, 2010.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

One new queen is well on her way. The other could be in trouble!

Saturday was inspection day for my three hives. While I had been inside the yellow, mother hive already this week to pull the green drone frame and replace it, all of the hives needed a really decent look-see. And while the temperature was at 94 degrees and the relative humidity was 48% -- I braved the elements to get it done (and hopefully I lost a few pounds too). It was like being in a sauna. 

Here's the work of the new Carniolan queen in the orange hive. I have to admit that is one fine looking frame of brood. This was the hive I was most worried about because the workers were so slow to leave the hive. The queen was introduced on June 2nd and she was out by June 8th. She was readily accepted, but I couldn't figure out why the workers were dragging their feet on foraging. I still don't know. But no worries now, they're out of the hive daily and now I can see that the queen is doing her job. I also found eggs and larvae so I have some of all stages of the bee birthing process going on here. The orange hive is well on its way to success.

While the orange hive seems to be fine, the lime green hive (a frame from it pictured right) still has troubles it seems. This is the hive that went from swarm cells to supersedure cells -- then those disappeared and it developed a laying worker. So after shaking all the bees way away from the hive, I introduced a new Carniolan queen at the same time I put one in the  orange hive. They both came from the same apiary. This queen was accepted as well...but look at this pattern. Spotty at best and there were lots of raised drone caps all throughout this hive. If there were new eggs, I didn't see them, but I did find larvae, so she has been laying. And I found the queen too, she was on the last frame (like all of them always are) so she's most definitely alive.

Here is the other side of the frame from the green hive. As you can see, while there are drone caps here, she has laid a decent pattern of flat, worker brood here too. And in the ones not capped, you can see glistening white larvae nestled in the cells. This capped brood is new. The only capped brood in the hive on June 2nd was from the mother hive (the big yellow hive). The capped brood in the hive on that date has already hatched. So it is my assumption that the workers have capped all of the cells you see here since June 2nd...just like the bees did in the orange hive that's thriving.

If I'm doing the math correctly, it is distinctly possible that a lot of the drone cells in this hive were from the laying worker I hopefully shook away earlier this month. Here's my thoughts: It takes 21 days for a bee to go from an egg to an adult. I shook this hive on June 2nd and the frames held typical laying worker eggs -- two and three per cell. So even though I introduced a new queen to this hive that day, I believe it is possible that the worker bees went about their daily routine and fed and capped the eggs and brood as they should. And my calculations say that brood should emerge sometime this coming week. After all, from June 2nd until June 19th -- that's only seventeen days, so its possible this mess isn't related to the new queen at all, but a hold-over from the dreaded laying worker. Least that's my thinking. Of course I'm open for theories here so throw them out at will.

While I plan to talk to the beekeeper at the apiary where I bought her and I've left some messages for some experiences beeks, I am now thinking that I should give her a few more days and watch for new eggs before I replace her. After all, she walked into a mess from the laying worker, so she hasn't had it easy. 

Of course I'll keep everybody updated on what is going on, but if you have some ideas, I am more than willing to know what they are.

ADDENDUM: On Sunday, I decided to swap some frames from the yellow hive over to the green hive. The yellow hive has plenty of full frames of worker brood, and since the green hive has mixed frames of worker and drone brood, I decided to swap some frames. After shaking every bee off the frames, I swapped them -- thus giving the green hive more workers that will hatch soon -- and the big yellow mother hive can handle a few more drones. Hopefully this will work out and keep the green hive on even keel until I can figure out what is going on. Wish us luck! 

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Attention ladies: There really is life outside the hive!

I have to admit that I've been a little concerned about the new orange hive. Why? Because its seems that its been extremely slow to respond after last week's split. Every day I've watched this hive to see what the bees were doing. And other than the occasional bee flying in or out, not much has really been going on.  

Honestly I couldn't understand it. When I made the first split weeks ago, the green hive was busy with bees out and exploring within three or four days. But not the orange hive. Six and a half days later, and there wasn't much of anything going on. I was so concerned that I opened the hive on Tuesday evening just to see what was happening, and I found a deep chamber with lots of bees just sitting there. Some of the bees were newly hatched, all bright yellow and fuzzy, and there was lots of capped brood yet to hatch, but the house bees just seemed to be lifeless and bored.

But that all changed. On the seventh day, Wednesday afternoon, the lethargic hive came alive! While looking out the kitchen window, I noticed a flurry of activity in front of the hives, and when I took a closer look, I realized that much of it was in front of the orange hive. I grabbed up my camera and headed for the yard, and what I found was a whole volley of bees doing orientation flights from the orange hive. Like all bees do, they would crawl out on the entrance or the face of the hive, then they would start the slow back and forth flight in the front of their home. Once they got a few feet off the ground, they would start making smaller circles -- and the higher they got -- the wider the circles -- then they would fly off in all directions.

Seeing that made me feel a lot better about this colony. It is my hope that since they now know where their home is, they'll start doing what bees are supposed to do and that's to forage and fend for themselves. And while I do feel better, I'm sure that I'll still have some concerns about them until I see the constant traffic coming and going like I do at the other two hives.

But you know, just in case, I'll be here to nurse them right along.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

UPDATE: The new queens are out and things look good so far...

"And...they're off!" That's what comes to mind after inspecting my two new colonies on Saturday and finding what you see to the left...empty queen cages. I admit that I was prepared for them to be out of the cages and inside the hives. But would they be accepted by the bees in those colonies? That seemed to be the issue for me.

Why? As I discussed in my previous posts, the green hive had gone from swarm cells to supersedure cells -- then those disappeared and suddenly I had a laying worker on my hands. So while technically queenless, my concern was that acceptance would be a huge issue since one of the worker bees was now laying eggs and trying to save the hive. But after doing a "shake" and removing every bee from every frame and then introducing a new mated queen, I think I took care of that issue. She's out and doing fine.

The orange hive, the newest, wasn't much of a real concern since they were queenless for 24-hours before I put the queen cage in. I moved bees and brood over from the mother hive, then waited till the next day to put her and her attendants in. So I wasn't all that concerned that acceptance would be much of an issue for this hive.

As you can see, that's one of the newest monarchs introduced to my apiary. She's Carniolan, so she's darker than her adopted daughters from the other hive which are Italian. And she was born this year and this is a blue year for queen markings. This is the queen in the orange hive and believe it or not, she's already laying. I found new eggs in the cells and she has a consistent pattern so I think she will do fine. The queen in the green hive isn't laying yet, least I don't think do. A few of the frames in that hive had been used by the laying worker, so she doen't have a lot of empty space there now. But she was out and crawling across the frame and looked great.

Since the frames in the lower deeps are already drawn out, I decided now is the time to give these girls some room to expand. So to match the yellow hive, I added a second deep with nine frames and one drone frame, and on top of those I added feeders with 1:1 syrup to help them draw comb. Considering that both of the new hives have plenty of workers, that should give them something to do and keep them occupied.

I admit I am a little concerned about the orange hive though. It doesn't seem to have the coming and going traffic like the other two hives, and I've noticed ants crawling up the sides and occasionally in the entrance. But its only been a week for them now. The good thing I did notice was that one of the guards chased some of the ants out, so maybe they're settling in to make this their home. I also noticed an nasty earwig (which I smushed) in the corner of one of the frames, and I believe that's became the hive is sitting on cinderblocks. I'll eventually move it over to a steel stand like the others sit on, but I have to wait for the city to finish some clean-up work on the creek behind the house. Then I plan to relocate the hives to a more level location just a few feet away.

So that's my update. Things seem to be okay so far, and I'll check them again this coming weekend to see if they're on track.

Bee cool!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Two new queens and one old queen are in residence...

As you can see my own little back yard apiary is expanding. It hasn't been easy, but with baby steps, we've done pretty darn good. And I do have to admit I'm proud.  

It was this time last year I started my beekeeping voyage with one package of bees from Georgia, most of them dead and the rest struggling for life. But with some quick thinking, a new queen, two frames of brood from another apiary and lots of TLC, it became the thriving colony it is today.

As I mentioned awhile back, I found all kinds of swarm cells in the yellow hive, so I moved those over to a new hive (green) with brood and bees to start a new colony. My inspection about a week later indicated that the swarm cells were gone and a lot of supersedure cells had popped up -- a situation that perplexed me and more experienced beekeepers too. But I decided to wait it out because I wanted to see if a virgin queen might be there...and see if she may fly away to mate, come back, then come home to begin her own family.

That never happened it seems. Apparently the queen (if there was one) never returned and so my worst fears came true. When I opened the green hive, I found eggs alright. Two or three eggs per cell. Some had one, but many of them had two and three eggs -- meaning that I now had evidence of a laying worker. Since that means the colony is headed for disaster, I had to act quickly -- so I took the hive to the other side of the yard, almost a couple hundred feet away -- and I shook every single bee off every frame. And when I got back to the hive stand where the green hive rests, a swarm of the bees from the hive had covered the entire inner cover which I propped up. And as I sat the hive back up where it belongs, the bees started marching back into their home. It was a great sight to see. I'm just hoping the young laying worker wasn't able to find her way back to the hive.

I ordered two new queens from an apiary in Winston Salem, North Carolina, called Tate's Apiaries (on Union Cross Road, 336-788-4554). Larry and Janice Tate raise Carniolan and Italian queens, and since my good friend Jared Watkins had such great success with his, I decided to get two Carniolan queens. There they are on the right, and although they're hard to see, if you click the picture to enlarge it you can almost see the blue marks on their backs. 

The colony in the green hive had been queenless for weeks, so I went ahead and introduced one of the new queens that same day. But since I was doing a second split (making it my third hive) -- I decided to move frames of brood and pollen and nectar into the newer orange hive, wait for 24-hours for them to realize they're queenless, then introduce the new caged queen and let them slowly get used to her. As you can see, there are quite a few bees from the mother hive in the new orange hive. And after making a small hole in the candy with a nail, I tightly wedged the cage between the frames so the workers can take care of the new queen and her attendants.

Take a good look at one of the brood frames I moved into the new orange hive. Nice, huh? This is from the mother hive or the yellow hive. As you can see, the queen is a laying machine, so I had enough frames to move into the green hive and the orange hive. And guess what? While I was busy looking to make sure I wouldn't move the queen from the mother hive, through the corner of my eye, I happened to see something green lumbering across the frame. It was the original queen I introduced in 2009! For the first time since last October, there she was moving ever so graciously through her daughters on the frame. Her green dot (indicating she was a 2009 queen) was worn but still there. Am I planning to replace her this year? No way. If she continues to do this well, she's got a home for as long as she wants. I was very careful to make sure she stayed in the yellow hive because I separated the frame she was on from the colony...and was careful to put it back when I was done.  

As soon as I put the cage with the new queen in the orange hive, the bees went to work checking her out. No aggression or anything to indicate they wanted to harm her. They just appeared to be curious and even started working on the candy stopper. I'm hoping that she'll be released in the next few days, and as it stands, I'll give them the standard five days to see if she's out and hopefully laying eggs. I'm hoping I'll find pleasant surprises in both hives in the next few days.

As you can see...this is a happy update and I'm excited. My mother hive is ruled by an Italian queen, and the two new hives will be dominated by Carniolan queens. I am looking forward to working with this race of bee since I've heard good things about them. I hear they're hard workers, gentle, and adapt to local conditions better than Italians. And besides, if it doesn't work out with them, Larry and Janice Tate sell Italian queens too.

So it looks like my apiary is moving right along and now I'm thinking about at least one more hive behind the house. If I decide to expand beyond the four, I think I'll have to find another location. My neighbors seems to be very cool with my backyard apiary so far -- and I just want to keep them that way.

Expect an update soon with the details of how my new colonies are faring.