Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Trouble in the orange hive but a new queen saves the day!

One thing that all beekeepers learn quickly; always expect the unexpected. Things can change quickly, even in a well established hive. Just over a month ago, my orange hive was one bustling colony. With lots of eggs and brood and honey making well underway, things looked just fine. But over a period for several days this past week, I noticed that traffic had slowed down significantly. Compared to the other four hives, this one had slowed down to a crawl. So figuring that something had to be wrong, I got out the overalls and tools and went to work. And sure enough, I was right.

Things did not look like the picture to the right. That's how it looked in late April. When I opened the hive on Saturday, I had to look down between the frames to even find some bees. And there was very little noise either, just a faint, low hum. So I started pulling frames and finding a few bees here and there, and along the hive wall, a more bees. Then when I pulled the hive bodies apart, more bees..but nothing like I would have expected. In all, the remaining bees would have made up a small swarm. It was extremely depressing to see such a once brimming colony down to what some beekeepers wouldn't even deal with on a swarm call. 

Did they swarm? Were they sick? Was there something that caused them to leave? The answers were not readily there on the basic inspection, but the more I dug into the hive, I found some things that could have caused the problems. I did not see any dead bees were in front of the hive, nor were any inside the hive that appeared to be ailing. There were no eggs anywhere on the 20 frames. There was only one frame that held some capped brood, and all of those cells were filled with drones and some of those looked dead. Oh, and multiple supersedure cells in both deep hive bodies. So my best guess is that the queen became a drone layer and maybe she was superseded. But the next question? Where was the queen? I could not find a queen anywhere. Unless there was a slender virgin queen in the hive that I overlooked, there wasn't one there. So before this colony died altogether or one of the workers decided to become a drone layer, I decided to buy a queen and try to quickly save it. It was time to hit the road for a new queen.

So I called John down at Triad Bee Supply in Trinity, North Carolina, and asked if he had any queens available. Guess what? He did. And on a Saturday too! Matter of fact, they had ten Italian queens caged that very morning. I asked him to mark one and I would be on the way. That is her (to the left). See her? She's hanging from the cage, the lady with the large abdomen. This was the best of around six pictures I tried to snap. She would not stay still to have her picture made. But as you can see, she's large and extremely healthy looking, so I'm hoping she'll soon crank up and save this colony from dying out.

The first thing I did was remove the second deep hive body and ten frames. There was no reason to have all that empty space for a small amount of bees, so I cut it down to one deep. Second thing was to find some really full frames of capped brood from a nearby donor hive to beef it up. So I borrowed some frames from the hive next door and replaced those with empty frames from the orange hive. Third thing was introduce the new queen using the time tested method of placing the queen cage in the hive and allow the workers to eat through the candy and release her. As you can see, as soon as I placed the queen cage on top, the bees from the hive started checking her out. I kept watch to see if any kind of fighting or unusual behavior would start, but nothing happened at all. And that is a good thing. I've got my fingers and a few toes crossed that she will be readily accepted as their new queen. 

For new beekeepers reading this (or older beekeepers who need a walk down memory lane), the best method I've found for introducing a new queen is to hang the cage between two frames. First of all, remove the cork that protects the white candy or fondant. And always place the screen where it faces the bottom. That's so the workers can feed the queen and her attendants. Always place the cage where the candy end is slightly downward so the queen can walk out and onto a frame when she's finally released. Then shut the hive up and leave it alone. The worker bees will continue to eat through the candy until the queen is released, then she can go to work and rule the hive. After a few days, you can go back and check to see if she's out and in the hive. The best sign is finding new eggs which mean she's already gone to work.

I can't imagine what happened to this colony to make it change in a short amount of time. Maybe they swarmed and the new virgin queen left to mate and never returned? Did they kill the old queen if she became a drone layer? Who knows. And we probably never will know. But hopefully this new queen will be readily accepted by the existing workers and create a bustling colony of her own. There's always an excitement when introducing a new queen and seeing her become a success, and I can't wait to check and see that she's out and ruling her hive.

Update coming in a few days! Stay tuned.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Mark's tip of the day: Kill those weeds without chemicals!

I once paid a visit to a new beekeeper's hives and noticed that every weed under and around them was "graveyard dead" (as Jerry Clower used to say). I was in awe and wanted to know the secret. When I asked him how he was killing them, he didn't hesitate to say Round Up. While I praised his efforts to keep his yard free of weeds, I gave him some friendly advice and told him to stop using chemicals like that around his bee hives. While Round Up is an herbicide and not a pesticide, it has been shown to be toxic for animals, fish and humans. And it is more than likely toxic to honey bees too. I told him one natural weed killer is to mix one gallon of white vinegar and one large container of salt, then spray it like Round Up. You can also add some dish detergent to the vinegar and salt mix. The good thing, it really works. The bad thing, you have to reapply it frequently.  

Before I got my first colony of bees, I tried everything you could think of to kill a big bed of bamboo behind my house. The previous owners apparently planted it, and what they were thinking, I don't know. The stuff is relentless and you can't kill it. No matter what I've used, nothing has worked. I even read where people have poured concrete over it and the stuff will continue to grow and sprout at the end of the concrete pad. My best bet would be to get a panda but I don't think that is very practical.

Year ago while doing some research on how to eliminate this evil weed, I ran across an article that said of you will apply Morton's water conditioning salt, it will kill tough weeds but not impact the environment like toxic chemicals. So I tried it and sure enough it worked. Let me clarify, it killed the grass and other weeds where it made direct contact, but did little to the bamboo. While that part was a failure, I did learn that the water conditioner salt is a cheap and non toxic method to deal with grass. And it is perfect to put under bee hives since it has no smell and nothing that will hurt the bees if they come in contact with it.

The pellets are about the size of medium gravel. And they are big enough that they won't disappear in one rain event. So as they melt, they leave enough residue kill the grass and will continue to work until they disappear. Once they're gone, simply apply more pellets. I paid a little over $8 for a 40 pound bag, and you can probably get it cheaper if you shop around. But a word of warning - don't put them near flowers or other greenery you want to live. While it doesn't work with bamboo, it does work on other living plants, so be careful where you put it. And if you accidentally get some on plants you do want to live, get it up before it rains or you use a water hose.

Good luck if you try it and let me know how it works for you. Oh by the way, the bamboo is still out of control although I keep it at bay with clippers and the lawnmower. And who of these days, I may have to get that panda after all!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

To bee (cam) or not to bee (cam)? That is the question!

This has been an idea that I've been tossing around for a couple of years, and that's setting up my own "bee cam" system. Not a bee cam inside the hives, but one that focuses on the outside of the hives so you can watch the bees come and go. There used to be one that broadcast from somewhere in California, and as long as there was daylight, you could watch the bees flying in and out all day long. But something happened and the cam went offline and eventually disappeared. But it planted the idea that if I was so amused by the bee cam that others surely must have been as well.

So I started doing a little digging to find out how easy (or difficult) it would be to set up my own bee cam. And while the cost of camera equipment and software has dropped significantly over the last few years, it can still get pretty complicated to set up a system that will broadcast over the Internet. It seems that the toughest part of the endeavor would be to connect the system to the 'net. Many of the outdoor cameras are wireless so that would eliminate running cable from my house to the bee hives. And many of them broadcast a signal for hundreds of feet to reach the indoor receiver. But even though they send a wireless signal, they need electricity to operate, and I have no electricity near my hives. One solution would be to set up a solar battery system that would power the camera, but that will drive up the cost by several hundred more dollars. Anyway around it, it is not going to be cheap.

A friend who works with computer systems is doing some research to see what kind of camera and system would be the best for the circumstances. I already have a computer I can dedicate for the web stream, so it would come down to buying a camera and putting together all the connections to make it work. And I have another friend who installs security systems, including cameras, so I want to see what he can offer to make this a reality. Sounds easy, but so far it has been a task to figure it all out.

While this seems like a fun project and could really become popular (someone even suggested I could possibly sell advertisements to help pay for it) it all boils down to how complicated it could become. And of course, the money factor too. While I would love to do it, like many other beekeepers, I operate on a small budget and don't have piles of money lying around. I already know that if it is going to cost a small fortunate, and it just might, I'll just have to scrap it.

So what do you think about such a project? What do you see as the pros and cons of such an endeavor? Would it be worth it? Suggestions to make it work?

Comments please!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Introducing more color into my apiary with a purple hive!

As proud as I was of my temporary hive (which I made from two honey supers and two bottom boards), I knew it was time to put my swarm in a permanent home. They had been in the temporary digs since Saturday, April 7th, so they were due for some real estate they could call their own. So after my weekend trip to Triad Bee Supply, and two healthy coats of paint, it was time to install the new hive.

Check out the new hive set-up! Yep, purple! As you've probably noticed by now, all of my hives have a different color, and while I was at the paint store, I saw this pleasing shade of purple. Okay, maybe it is really more of a shade of lavender. But I really like it. I saw a really hot shade of red I liked, but I didn't choose it because I hear the bees only see it as black. So I'm sticking with lighter colors. And I have another hive that needs painting, and I already have the paint. In honor of the ladies, my next colony will reside in a pink hive. My apiary is definitely becoming a splash of color!

In the time that this colony has been re-hived, you can see that the queen has been one busy lady. She hasn't missed a lot of time in laying eggs as long as she has a place, and this frame came from another colony the same day I caught them (as you know, you always put a frame of brood with swarm catches so they will stay put). This is all new capped brood. And the other side of the frame was just as covered. So for an old queen, she's still got it!

And not only capped brood, but take a look at all the c-shaped larvae! As you can see (as with all my pictures, click for a larger view), all the larvae are pearly white and glistening which is an indicator of a healthy colony. This colony is well on its way to doing extremely well. In addition to the great looking larvae, most of the drawn frames were filled with a mixture of eggs, larvae, capped brood and the essentials to make honey (nectar and pollen). And nine out of the ten frames were fully drawn, so I added a second deep hive body and ten new frames. Of course I spritzed them with sugar syrup to attract the bees. By the time I was closing up shop, they were already working their way up.

By the way, I did a quick check of the blue hive and things looked great there too. I found new eggs and larvae, so I know the colony is queenright. That wasn't the case for the last few weeks. I'm beginning to think that this may have been the hive that swarmed instead of the yellow one. Why? Because the same day the swarm happened, I found eggs and brood in every hive but the blue one. I know that queens will stop laying before a swarm in preparations to leave, so I'm inclined to think that maybe it was the blue one after all. For every week I checked after the swarm, I could not find eggs or a queen. I was even beginning to worry that it may develop a laying worker. Now all of a sudden, I have eggs and brood. So maybe I have a new queen in residence and she's back after her mating flight and already working? Could be. The bees were extremely calm and things were running as usual, so I think things are fine there. My only concern is a few small hive beetles I've seen there so I'm going to start a treatment soon.

Looks like I have one happy (and colorful) apiary!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Attention Triad area beekeepers: We have a new supplier who makes their own equipment!

So I heard that the Triad area of North Carolina has a new beekeeping supplier located in Liberty which is in Randolph County. And yes, it's true! I made the 45 minute trip to Triad Bee Supply on Saturday to buy some new hive equipment and really enjoyed the visit.

My area of North Carolina is really fortunate to be close to two major beekeeping suppliers; Brushy Mountain Bee Farm in Moravian Falls, and Dadant and Sons in Chatham, Virginia. While I've made plenty of quick trips to Dadant's Virginia warehouse, I've never been to Brushy Mountain. But I can't always get to Dadant during the week when they're open. Unfortunately they are closed on Saturday and Sundays when a lot of hobby beekeepers do the most work.

Not Triad Bee Supply. They are open on Saturdays too. Just before I started my trip, I called to make sure they were open. I spoke to John, one of the owners, and he said they were open until 6:00 p.m., and maybe even later. So I piled in my vehicle and headed to the south to pick up supplies.

I met John when I got there and bought two hive set ups, minus the frames. Triad Bee Supply is very small, and the showroom is actually a barn shaped utility building. As a matter of fact, my own utility building behind the house is larger. But you really don't need a lot of room to show people what you have, and everything there had its own neat little place. John showed me his hives and I was impressed. The thing I really like about the hives is that they are made of cypress wood that comes from eastern North Carolina. The cypress (which grows in swamps) will last a lot longer than pine and is less susceptible to the elements year after year.

And don't be fooled by the small showroom. John has plenty of supplies because they make most of their own stuff! They keep the hive equipment in storage behind the building. John told a local television station that since they had problems getting supplies from other companies, they started making their own product. And in my opinion, the quality would match anything that comes from the major beekeeping suppliers. In case you can't tell, I really like it. Oh, and they sell lots of other beekeeping supplies including woodenware, clothing, even package bees!

I've included a recent television news story about Triad Bee Supply that was done by local station, WGHP Fox-8. If you would like to visit the Triad Bee Supply website, you can see it here. And if you pay them a visit or order something, please tell them you saw it on my blog!