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Friday, March 31, 2006

Swarm Averted

I checked on the Russian hive today and everything is looking well. They've drawn out probably a third of the new super and filled that with honey. The older super is actually completely filled with honey and rippening honey. It's probaby half capped. One frame had warped terribly and was getting in the way. I had to replace it with foundation but, the honey contained is probably some of my best. I can't wait to extract it. Down in the brood chamber, the bees were drawing out foundation but, doing a pretty terrible job at it. I was also searching for possible swarm cells given I didn't want to lose the honey production of two colonies. I found plenty of queen cups and cut them but, there were also three queen cells in the usuall swarm possition on the frame. These had to be cut, and were. I have hopefully, now, prevented a swarm. There were minimal eggs, some very young larvae and many pupae. The fact that egg production seemed to be rapidly slowing is a good sign that the bees are getting a case of "swarm fever". For each swarm it's gallons of honey lost as well as potential for honey production for a few months. The queen is also lost. The bees can make a new queen from eggs and young larvae but, their's no tellling what the genetics of the bees will be. With it now being official that my county is AFRICANIZED, I have to take every precaution available to make sure my colonies remain docile. Anyways, I have a few pounds of honey that are needing mine, and a slice of toast's attention...

Yesterday's trip to the UF Bee Lab

5:04 am, I awoke, after probably five hours of sleep, and with great hurry got dressed and in the car. We would have to drive 2 1/2 hours to Gainsville, but it would all be worth it. I'd get to vollunteer at the apiary of Dr. Hall. He is one of the leading geneticists trying to breed Varroa mite resistant bees (Queens) and preform various experaments. Today, we'd be installing packages, 20, to be exact; 7 would go in nucs, 7 would go in the standard 10-frame equipment, and 6 would go into 10-frame equipment to be trucked to another location. We arived around 8:00 am and I, tired but excited, was prepared to spend a day working with bees. First, we'd have to set up the equipment for the packages, which arived on Tuesday. This would mean stetting out bottom boards, organizing frames of honey with empty frames, sealing the enterences wtih screening and thumb tacks and setting out the covers and queen excluders. This whole process took around 3 hours. In that time, all the above actions took place. I'm not entirely sure which part was best out of the whole experience, but so far, I had hardly seen a bee. To set everything up it was loaded onto a trailor pulled by a golf cart then, to my surprise, Dr. Hall said, "You can drive it over there, if you want, and set the stuff up." While I was concerned about hitting one of the active colonies, it seemed easier than hauling 10 heavy, ice cold (from being stored in a freezer) supers by hand.

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Here are the nucs prior to the bees being installed.

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Here is some of the 10 frame colonies. The ones with 2 boxes (supers) are all about to be filled with packages. One package can be seen in-front of the closest hive body. The multiple storied hives (3+) are active colonies. These girls have something to deffend!

This was all completed by 11:00 am, or so, and I would finally see the packages. I walked into the extraction room, used for handling the honey the bees make. Making honey isn't a priority for the Bee Lab but, "bees will be bees". The second the door was opened, there came an ominous roar of thousands...hundreds of thousands of bees. While their noise may scare, with nothing to protect, they're gentle as lambs. All the packages had to be taken outside, placed in the shade and ripped from the wooden strips with hive tools. Then the staples had to be taken out. All this work was done so that the packages would fit inside the new "hives". After some work and splinters, it came time to loosen and take off the wood covers on the packages. The package consists of a wooden box with two screened sides and a hole the size of a large soup can drilled in the top. This is filled with a queen cage attached to a thin strip of metal and plugged with a large can with several holes in the bottom. The can is filled wtih a sugar syrup to keep the bees adaquately fed for 3-4 days. After all the tops were removed we began removing the cans, taking out the queen cages and covering the hole back up with the wooden cover. The packages and queen cages were given matching numbers and the queen were taken inside for marking and clipping. Marking is the process of putting a small drop of paint on top of the thorax of the queen to identify her. Clipping is when one wing is clipped off. Usually, a beekeeper will clip one side on even years and one side on odd ones to be able to guess the age of the queen. When holding the queen, I learned that one must be extremely carfull and gently pinch her by the thorax. Touching the head can dammage sensory organs and holding her by the abdomen can either make her steril or dammage her overies. One must also be carefull when clipping her wings that one of the legs doesn't get in the way of the sisor. The front legs are used to measure the cell to determine if it is to hold a worker or a drone. The back legs support her emmense weight (rellative to her body size) when laying. After the process of marking and clipping was complete they were transfered into small, narrow screened cages. Now they could be introduced into the hives with the workers from the package.
First, the queen would be placed in the hive then the box containing the workers would be placed in the hive aswell. Then the cover on the package would be taken off and the cover of the hive slipped into place above a queen excluder. This process was repeated 20 times. Every time worked just fine with the exception of one nuc which had a badly warped cover. It created a half inch gap at the back, through which bees escaped for about half an hour before it was noticed. When I asked why it was nessesary to screen the enterences, Dr. Hall told me how, last year, they left the enterences open and then came a swarm. All the bees drifted to it and formed a mass from 20 packages ($1000 worth plus shipping). "It was larger than a beachball." He said. Now, with all the new hives set up it was time for the last act of the day. Three queens were being placed in queen bank colonies. Queen banks are colonies used to hold queens for later use. The queens are each confined in their own, individuall screened cages about 1 inch sq. Now, the day was over after a little clean up, and I was sting free. I noticed how, just one year ago I would flinch at the sight of a near by bee, and now, I would open colonies and packages without hessitation.

Bored...but with a cammera.

On March 24th I was bored and decided to attempt to get a decent macro-shot of the italian hive here at my house. You can judge if they're decent or not.
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Here some bees are filling a gap I accidentally made between the cover and the super, with propolis to seal out the elements. That green powder on top of the cover is actually oak pollen from one of the half dozen oak trees that shadow it.
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Here is a photo of bees trying to use their bodies to seal the enterence and keep out the cold wind. It was actually around 60ยบ that day.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006


I overlooked a critical symptom when I started worrying about AFB. The cells affected were uncapped. This point to the likely senario being that the colony swarmed and with the stress of the lower temperatures the colony has gotten a slight case of sacbrood or EFB (European Foul Brood). EFB doesn't form hard, industructable spores or kill colonies. It only affects a few brood just like sacbrood. Since the larvae die uncapped, the bees are quick to remove them thus, averting any possible major infection. I'll have to deal with the varroa mites, and given the current population is low and there's minimal brood to hide in, treating soon would be ideal. I guess I was just over-reacting to the fact that a colony that was populous and crowded on last inspection, has just become halved in population, many empty cells, and about a super of missing honey. Given there's still a honeyflow going on and a few frames of capped honey they should get along alright untill the next flow. In beekeeping, all you have to do is be a few days late, and you lose an entire crop. I'm just hoping that the new queen will be just as gentle and her mother. Time will tell.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

It looks "grim".

I checked on the italian hive and not all looks well. I'm now seeing bees with obvious varroa paricitation, such as terribly deformed wings, and the hive also appears to have sacbrood and possible AFB...AFB (American Foul Brood) is probably the most dreaded of the bee diseases. It's highly contagioous and nearly impossible to destroy. There was some honey, though not the ammount to be expected durring a honeyflow. The hive also appears to have swarmed, probably when I was at school. This could explain why there were bees near the porch that one day. A swarm could also explain why there seems to be alot of honey missing. Swarms "tank-up" before they leave to establish a new colony. The current italian colony obviously has a new queen but, it could take up to 6-8 weeks more to get the population up to "pre-swarm" conditions. Hopefully, I'm only seeing discolored sacbrood, instead of AFB. If it's AFB then I'll be forced out the the "Bee-bussiness" ASAP.

Monday, March 20, 2006

The Russians have been Supered

It's been windy today but, they were still working diligently. Fulfiling that old phrase, "Busy as a Bee."
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Sunday, March 19, 2006

The Russians are finally getting their act together!

I checked on the russian hive for the first time in 2 weeks given they were running light on stores the previous time I checked them and I wanted to see how they were doing. When I arived, I noticed exceptionaly heavy trafic at the enterence. There didn't seem to be any guards, some pollen was comming in and most of the bees were returning from the same direction. Most to be learned about a hive before one opens it up is to watch thier behavior at the enterance.

When I opened it the roar of fanning was already in progress. This either means that it's too hot or they're making alot of honey. I pulled out the first frame to find it practicly dripping with the liquid gold! There were still some capped brood in that super but given there were no eggs above the queen excluder, I had clearly successfully gotten the queen below it. Looking into the brood nest, the russians had dramaticly expanded their brood nest. They are now on almost all the frames with brood and have drawn out all but one or two frames of foundation. Some of the comb has been so stored with honey that the bees actually expanded it from the usuall 1" to about 1.5"...and yes that means alot. It means that honey is comming in so strong that with the top super full they need more room...and fast! It's times like this when everything falls into place and beekeeping becomes exciting, in a good way!

Friday, March 17, 2006

Where did they go?

I checked Friday morning and there were probably around 3 bees making their quick flights into and out of the enterence crack. I arive home from school around 8 hours later to find that not a single bee is in residence. I observed it for about half and hour and didnt' see anything. I got immpatient (like any adolecent) and threw a rock...or two at it. Still nothing happened, not so much as one bee investigating the disturbance. Then, I was upset, threw on my veil and gloves and shoved a wire hanger into the hole. Still nothing. The bees much have either absconded or been killed by pesticides implanted into buildings to keep out pests such as termites. I think the more likely option is they they just absconded; packed up and left. Saturday I'll probably open up that area if I see any beee in the enterence crack and see just what is going on inside. It can't be anything to much since, if I poke a hanger into the hole and not even one single bee shows up, there must not be many bees in there.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

...what falls through the cracks.

Maybe flys into the cracks would be more accurate. I was walking around in the backyard today and noticed how the stucko covered 2nd story poarch is falling appart. The wood is completely rotton and massive cracks are forming. Looking closer at one of the larger cracks(about 1/2 inch wide) there were bees flying in and out. There were probably about a dozen. Some bees had made their nest in a poarch that WILL fall probably within the year. Now, this weekend I'll have to remove it and see if these bees are anything usable. If they are africanized then I'm in for a living hell...

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Remember that TBH (Top Bar Hive)?

Yeah...that one I was "enthusiastic" about last October. Anyways...it is now dead...er uh, disassembled. It never had bees in it but, then again it was never built well enough to house any living thing other than maybe termites. So, if you haven't guessed by now, I'm in high school. Of cource, no high school is complete without a "Shop Class" or as we call it, "Materials and Processes IB". Most just call it "Shop". I have been given permission to build a TBH for credit so long as I supply the sides(plywood). Wouldn't ya' know it...I have a mostly built TBH with the proper size wood. So, it was just a mater of taking out those screws...the 3.5 inch deep screws...the 3.5 inch horably stripped screws. It took me over an hour but they're all out and the TBH has been broken down to just it's elemental peices. Sides, ends, screws and screening...the last two found their way into a garbage can. Now I'm thinking of "reserving" a package from Spell Bee co.(I bought my first package from them and those bees have been astounding!) So, if I ever get that thing "up and running" I'll be sure to post it on my TBH blog. http://topbarhive.blogspot.com/

Monday, March 13, 2006

Trapped Above

I checked on the Italian hive yesterday and found that I had actually trapped the queen above where I wanted her. She's laying in the honey supers while the brood box is missing eggs. On the plus side, she suddenly got alot more room to lay, leading to more bees...and eventually, more honey. The bees were oddly aggresseive yesterday. I left the top super(containg nothing but foundation) and the queen excluder off then was recruited by my Dad, the second I finished, to mow the lawn. I got about a third of the way through then, suddenly, about half a dozen (6) bees just started headbutting me. For those of you who don't know, "head-butting" is when the bees are angery and ram the source of their anger in the face...me. This is usually one step before stinging and can accidentally enter the nasal and oral cavities as well as the ears and eyes. Not nice places to be stung. I did get stung in the ankle through the sock by one determined bee. The pain passed in about 5 minutes but, with the weight of walking it did get more intense. Then, my mother, weeding, got stung in the scalp. In the pain scale that's just one step below the tounge. They seemed to "cool their tempers" by the next day but, the fact that they were still aroused after an hour leads me to beleive that I must have screwed up somewhere in the inspection. I was carfull and didn't roll any so I don't know what went wrong.

Sunday, March 05, 2006


I checked on the russian hive today. When I first approached I was surprised that the brick I keep on the hive cover to cover the feeding hole had been moved. It appeared to be recent given their was an expanding ring of propolis in teh hole only 1/4 inch in radius. The brick had to have been moved within the last week. There is a school nearby so my first guess goes to mischeavious adolecense. Anyways, when I put in the queen excluder a few weeks ago I accidentally trapped the queen ABOVE the brood chamber. Now, where there's supposed to be honey there is brood...and alot of it. The brood chamber ( the one below that the queen was "locked out" of) is almost COMPLETELY filled with pollen. The oak trees in the area have produced a steady flow of the proteinous powder. Such pollen has also reaked havoc for my allergies. This hive is also a little light in stores and next week I expect to feed both of them. The hive population has steadliy increased and now they are actually drawing out the foundation, which leads me to beleive that there has been or still is a minor honeyflow. If their is, it's too weak to create any stores but should help the hive in its day-to-day existence.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Hmmmmm...a little light.

I did the first meaningful inspection on the italian hive since February 5th. They've gone through almost a super of honey and may need feeding. I'll be able to further evaluate this next week. I am surprised that they're not managing to feed themselves with nectar given the entire neighborhood has azalia bushes blooming and it seems that most everything is following suit. The Jacarandas should start blooming next month and hopefully then the bees will store some honey. They have gotten very full of pollen given the oak trees have been blooming for about 2 weeks now. The number of bees in the hive has also lessened noticably. I'm begining to question varroa paricitation. In other words, I'm wondering if my hive has varroa mites in great enough numbers to injure the hive. I did get the queen excluder in place today and hopefully that will contain the queen's laying to where I want the eggs...out of the honey! However, the bees must be in a reasonably good state in refference to resources. They have begun to rear drones which they do only when they feel they have a surplus of food.

As I was lighting my smoker a neighbor approached me. While waiting for the, "Your bees are in my pool/birdbath/hummingbird feeder." she was actually intriuged (sp) about the bees given she had just learned about them a week ago when I gave her honey. She began with the usuall questions of, "How do you feed them? How many are there? Do you ever get stung?" It's always nice to receive questions like this when compared to the alternative..." What the hell is wrong with you?!"