Saturday, July 19, 2008

great photo, Jen!

I now use it for a desktop screen image, says Dave.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Foulbrood Disease


F/B is extremely contagious.  There is no cure.  The first warning sign is SMELL.  (Remember, Look, Listen and Smell).  Whenever you get into the brood chamber, inspect the sealed brood.  If the brood caps are broken and the larvae is rotting in the cell, it is probably F/B.  


I repeat, THERE IS NO CURE!  If you discover an infected hive, be aware that everything you have used is now contaminated.  Especially your hive tool, hands, etc.  I keep alcohol with me for such an occasion.

You must destroy the hive.  Do this in the evening, after flight has stopped.  Use a pump up type sprayer filled with soapy water and pull every frame and spray the flightless bees.  They will quickly drown.  Put everything into double, heavy duty garbage bags.  In the fall you will burn everything in a BIG bonfire.  Textbooks will say you can salvage the boxes (only) by scorching the inside with a plumber's torch, but I would not trust it.

Foulbrood is spread by robbing.  As the hive weakens (because there is no brood hatching), it will be robbed out by other hives, infecting them.  This is why it is SO CRITICAL TO CATCH A DISEASED HIVE EARLY.  

ALSO BE AWARE THAT IT IS THE STRONGEST HIVES THAT OFTEN CATCH FOULBROOD.  This is because they are strong enough to overwhelm a weakened (diseased) hive.
There is a medication, terrimyicin (sp?), that PREVENTS F/B.  Many beekeepers use it in the spring and fall, in the form of patties.  I do not.  However, if I discover F/B, I do treat all my hives in the yard, since I am convinced there is a feral hive in the area that may infect the rest of my yard.  I will post the recipe for patties in a comment below.

One other thing.  So now you have these bags of rotting hives sitting in your garage waiting for the burn ban to be over.  In September, you have forgotten all about it and left your garage door open, only to discover hundreds of bees flying into the garage and lapping up the honey that is seeping out of the garbage bags.  NOT GOOD!  

Friday, July 11, 2008

Combining Weak Hives

If you have a couple weak hives, or perhaps a swarm and a weak hive, you can combine them and create a productive hive as follows:

Remove the bottom board from one hive place it on top of the other hive with a piece of newspaper between.  Cut slits in the newspaper with your hive tool.  

The bees co-mingle slowly and probably will not kill the queen that is strange to them.  The combined hives will often run for a time with 2 queens resulting in dramatic improvement in numbers of bees.  Eventually the queens will battle it out and the stronger will survive.

Swarm Season

This has been quite a season for swarms.  There are good things and bad things about swarming.  The bad thing is that both the original hive and the swarm will  probably not make an excess of honey.  The good thing is that both develop new queens.  From what I have read, the old queen leaves with the swarm but is usually superceeded within a few weeks.  If you catch a swarm, the worker bees are very young and vigorous.  They will draw comb very fast.  Put them on foundation if possible.

Hives produce queen cells in two locations and each means something different:   

A hive that senses a failing queen, or a hive that is suddenly queenless (killed by careless beekeer ? ) will sense an emergency and will have to produce a queen from a normal egg.  In other words, they did not plan for this situation.  These queen cells are on the side of the frames.  Usually, 2 to 6 cells are produced.

On the bottom of frames in the upper brood box, you will see "queen cups."  Check them if you suspect the hive is preparing to swarm.  (Signs of swarming are: many bees clustered in front of the entrances, a general listlessness in flights,  and of course, most importantly a hive that has the brood area "plugged out" with honey.)  When a hive prepares to swarm, they will raise queen cells in these cups.  Are the cups "wet" or "dry?"  Once wet, they are raising queens in order to swarm.  They usually raise a dozen or so.

If you catch them early, provide plenty of room for the brood cluster:  spread the brood cluster out over 3 boxes or so and fill in with frames of foundation.  

If the cells are sealed with many "finger cells" hanging from the bottom of the frames, there is probably nothing you can do to prevent swarming.

If you open a hive and notice a dramatic weakening in the number of bees, suspect swarming.  Look for the hatched queen cells on the bottom of the frame.

Swarm season is just about over.  Probably 2-3 weeks to go.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Mary's Requeening

I doubt if there was anything wrong with the original queen.  I also think the chances of acceptance of the new queen after such a disruption are poor.

So, let me suggest some things:

1.  The ONLY possible reason for the "strange" comb is improper spacing of the frames.  When using foundation, you should run 10 frames.  Only in the 2nd year should you reduce to 9 frames.  When running 10, the frames are pretty much self spacing.  With 9 frames, you must be VERY VERY diligent about spacing.  Some beekeepers always run 10.  The problem is that by the 2nd year, it becomes very difficult to remove the frames.  Burr comb on top of the frames is also caused by improper spacing but is almost impossible to control.  A box that is 1/16 to tall and a frame that sits 1/16 too high will result in burr comb.

2.  A failing queen is characterized by an inconsistent brood pattern OR an excess of drone brood.  In other words, a healthy queen will fill the frame with few open cells.  A failing queen will have many open cells in a checkerboard pattern.  An excess of drone brood means she is running out of semen.  (However, in the midst of a honey flow, a healthy queen may lay a spotty pattern because she has a hard time finding open cells with all the nectar coming in.)

3.  The most likely cause of the difference between your hives is "drift" in the original installation.  Because the number of bees grows in an exponential increase, a small difference in the number of bees will make a huge difference later.  If 10% of the bees drifted from the weak hive to the stronger in the first few days after installation, the starting point would be 90% and 110%.  Do the math and within 8 weeks or so, the stronger hive will have twice the bees.  In the first few days after installation, the bees are confused about where their home is.  Wind and other factors can cause drift.

4.  To boost the strength of a hive, pull a frame of sealed brood from a strong hive, bang it on its end in front of the entrance in order to knock off the bees, and place the frame of brood in the middle of the brood cluster of the weak hive.  With packages, you should wait until you are sure the queen is released and accepted before doing this.  If you have existing hives (from last year) pull from them to boost the packages as soon as possible.  If you only have packages, wait until there is sealed brood.  (You don't have to use sealed brood but it is better because the bees hatch sooner.)  You may want to pull more than one frame and may have to do this several weeks in a row.  In any case, in early spring, try to "equalize" your hives.  This overcomes the problem of drift.  

5.  As for killing a queen, every beekeeper does it once.  I will never do it again.  If necessary, I let the bees do it.  They know best.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Long live the queen!

Hello All,

It's been a while, but I thought I'd write about my requeening today. Don and I have two hives; one is doing fine--very populous and we put our second super on today. The other, however, we have labeled our "retarded" hive. The numbers have always been fewer and it has usually been at least two weeks behind the other hive in building out comb. We never even considered adding a super for honey. Not only that, but they have been building some really strange comb: some doubles back on itself; some is wider than the frame, so it can't be built on the adjacent frame; they like to build lots of burr and bridge comb between frames and especially between top and bottom bars. The two frames that the queen cage had been between had so much shared comb by the time we were able to open the hive (remember all that COLD weather?) that we couldn't separate them without destroying brood cells, so we left them together.

So, after much agonizing, we decided to requeen. QEII (as we call her) arrived last week, and we had read that she should be laying eggs before she was introduced, so we installed her in a very small nuc of three frames of brood and honey taken from the other hives. We fed them syrup since most of the bees weren't old enough to forage and they needed to tend the brood that was hatching. They took a few days to release the queen from her cage, and she took a few more days to begin laying, but we finally saw eggs on Thursday.

That meant that we'd have to find the old queen and kill her. I was certain that the queen would be hiding in the middle of the double-framed brood comb, but we were lucky and found her running around on the second brood frame we looked at. I had to pull her off the frame with two hive tools (used like tongs) and dropped her on the ground and smooshed her with my hive tool. It was very traumatic...

Today, we moved the nuc hive into the position where the old hive had been. We disassembled the old hive and put more brood frames around the nuc frames plus some honey on the sides. Then we took the remaining frames and filled a second hive body with brood frames in the middle and whatever frames we had with honey or any comb built out on the sides. We put this second hive body on top of the nuc's hive body and then added a super baited with one frame of honey from our strong hive.

After thoroughly disturbing this hive (not to mention the poor nuc bees who'd been out foraging and didn't know where their hive went), we will leave it alone to let everyone calm down and get back to work. In a week or so, we'll check to verify that the queen has been accepted by the hive and that she is continuing to lay eggs.

Hopefully, QEII is a better queen that lays more eggs and has productive offspring with more honey storage capacity and typical comb-building genes. Then I might feel that all this drama was worthwhile and my murderous act can be justified. Maybe it's a good thing that it's so hard to deliberately do harm to another. I'm not sure I want to be able to kill any of my bees without feeling some level of regret.

Bee Mary