June 27, 2011

All Hail Queen Sally

Carnage outside the bee city was piling up this morning. There were several queen carcasses on the patio and probably more scattered away from the hive. All together we counted around 16 queen cells, which means 15 queens-to-be did not make it.
We think this little lady was the victor and is now the new queen. Alden named her Sally... yep. Ilana and Alden saw her clinging to the side of the hive for about 15 minutes this morning before she took off on what we assume was her mating flight.

We did not see her return, but will know if everything happened as it should in a couple days if we see baby bees again in the hive.

video
Some of the workers in the video above are trying to help Sally find her way back to the hive by fanning the nasonov pheromone out into the air.
We collected a few of the vanquished queens for a posthumous photo shoot. RIP little lasses. It was amazing to see just how much smaller the virgin queens are than mated queens. The queen's abdomen really expands dramatically once it's filled with sperm and eggs.

June 26, 2011

Bee swarm part II

Alden holding a drone. A worker bee in our remaining hive is fanning the nasonov pheromone.

We never located the bee swarm after they left, but we knew they had to be somewhere nearby. We only want the best for them and will be happy as long as they are happy, blahdy blah, but still it would be nice if they would just realize that the best place in the neighborhood really is in our backyard and come home. The weather was cool and rainy all week, so I thought we might still have a chance this weekend to impact their decision. Since I'm halfway though Honeybee Democracy (fantastic book, btw!) my head is filled with crazy ideas about tracking and eventually coaxing our swarm back to our property with a fresh new hive filled with comb, the ideal cavity volume, and a south-facing courtyard, etc. These are all qualities of a nest site that are highly valued by scout bees, so my thinking was that since our swarm was probably still nearby going through the bee equivalent of the neighborhood real estate flier, we'd swoop in with an offer so good, they'd be fools to pass up. Our family made a trek to the local bee supply store today and returned victorious with a fresh set of supers, complete with matching frames. Kerstin had barely unloaded the trunk when our neighbor approached us and inquired about our bees.

"Um, they swarmed on us last week, why do you ask?"
"Oh, my friend and I were walking the dogs by the llama farm down the road and saw a massive cloud of insects heading for the open pasture on the other side of the farm. At first we thought they were flies and then I realized they were bees. They aren't yours, are they?"

Curses!

We jumped in the car and drove down to the farm and the pasture to see if we could catch of glimpse of them on their way out of town, but alas, we were too late there too.
We're still building the new hive and plan to put it out in the field anyway. We hope that another swarm will find it attractive to them and take up residence before it gets too late in the season to build up the honey reserves to successfully overwinter. We are all quite taken with our bees and hope to increase our apiary to 3 or 4 hives by next year. In the meantime, the ascendent queen has probably offed her rivals and will probably take her wedding flight soon. More drama is still ahead of us until she starts laying. Stay tuned...

June 25, 2011

A New Reign

The colony was acting weird today. I told Ilana to check them out and she came back to tell me that the queens were 'tooting'. This is not a euphemism for gassy bees, oh no. 'Tooting', also known as piping, is the noise the baby queens make either while still inside their cells or immediately after emergence. The queens make this noise by vibrating their wing muscles without moving the wings, which causes the sound to resonate in the thorax. It occurs most often where there is more than one queen in a hive and is thought to be a battle cry announcing the queen's willingness to fight. It may also demonstrate the fitness of the new queen to the worker bees, which may rally around the strongest virgin queen. You have to listen to the hive very carefully, and if you are lucky (which we were) you can hear a sound like a mosquito buzz (high pitched whine) coming from inside the hive, possibly followed by a response buzz from another queen in a different cell. The sound from our own hive was too faint to record for you, hence the You Tube link, but it sounded identical to this video. Specifically, this is the 'tooting' noise, which suggests that at least one queen has already hatched and, workers willing, is on the prowl.

If they haven't already done so, any day now the rest of the queens will emerge and it will be Thunderdome time, unless they are planning successive swarms. Good timing for it, the weather will be nice this week for the victorious queen's mating flight.

June 22, 2011

New Closet

When we bought the house the door off the side of the dining room did not lead to a closet, but rather stairs to the basement with shelves. At one point it WAS a closet until some Yankee genius cut a rectangle out of the floor and installed some scrap-wood-stairs. I'm sure there was a good reason for doing that at the time, but for my lifestyle I prefer to have the closet space. The 2 biggest downsides of this modification was that it took away a really good place to put stuff and it made the house very drafty. So a couple months ago I decided to reclaim the space as a closet. So I re-installed the floor, threw on some sheet-rock and did a little plastering. And voila!
video

One thing that makes these jobs totally worth it is when Alden discovers the new space.

June 19, 2011

SWARM!

All indications point to our bees having swarmed. Which basically means that the queen and half the workers thought they could do better somewhere else and took off. I have not been able to find a definitive reason why bees swarm. There are several factors that seem to relate in an equation of hive-space vs. bee population vs. honey supply vs. time of year vs. mystery.
I can't help take their leaving personally and am a bit hurt. I looked around the property but could not find any clues to their whereabouts. The bees that were left have already made some queen cells and we are hoping that if we leave things alone everything will be back to 100% in a couple weeks, new queen and all. If the new queen isn't up to the task we will have to run out and buy a queen in a hurry.
We figured the watch-n-learn approach would be the best which is why we have not bought a new queen yet. I now see the reason to starting the bee keeping hobby with two hives however. The books I read sated you should do this so you can compare the two and in case one dies. What they did NOT make clear is how a healthy hive can help an ailing one. In my case I worry that there wont be enough good (genetically diverse) drones for the new queen. If I had a second hive this would not be a worry.
There should be at least twice as many bees on the frames and a lot more brood.
If a new queen works out and the bees can get their population back up we might get a little honey in the fall. If things don't pick up they may not have enough food to last the Maine winter and we could lose the hive. Yipe.

June 12, 2011

Skunked!

We had our friends Darrell and Bethany over for drinks and conversation the other day and right in the middle of the social gathering a skunk got captured in one of our garden traps.
It took awhile to figure out how to release the little bugger. Putting the cage in the car or truck to take the varmint to Peacock Beach seemed like tempting fate. So even though skunks can eat bees, I decided to let it go in on the property. We all stood around trying to think of the best way to do this. We finally came to the conclusion that we should throw a tarp over the trap, then prop open the front with a stack, and hope for the best.
Fortunately there were no casualties or amusing stories beyond this point.
We went back to our garden party.

June 8, 2011

Hive Beetles


We spied a few hive beetles after our weekly inspection yesterday (pictured here on the left of the middle frame). They are small black things that scurry away when the inner cover is removed. From what I've read, the larvae of this beetle are the biggest threat to the colony, because they feed on pollen and honey, and may damage combs. Right now they seem to be concentrated in the top super only, so we're going to place our beetle traps up top and see what happens.
The top super seems to be dedicated to honey storage at the moment (!!!). It's full of ripening honey, while the queen appears content to continue laying eggs in the bottom super. That said, the frame with the most honey on it was the outermost frame of the lower super (pictured below). Kerstin actually struggled to lift it because it was so heavily laden. Our little bees certainly have been busy in this string of sunny, warm days!Having 2 supers worth of frames certainly complicates the inspection process. Kerstin was bombarded by no less than dozen bees bent on his destruction near the end. This is the angriest we've seen them and thought for sure today was the day we'd finally get stung. Bound to happen eventually. But no, we managed to escape the assault. Another day, perhaps.Here's the queen (upper right, dark thorax, golden abdomen). She still seems to be doing her job, although the workers are still building queen cells. I still don't get this, but we're just going to let them sort it out themselves.Alden was a champ and sat patiently on his little cinder block as his parents stirred the bee hive. Everyone (minus a few unfortunate bees who were crushed during the inspection - RIP) came through unscathed.